Oliver Stone Warns Against Surveillance Capitalism and ‘Pokémon Go’

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EDITORS NOTEI knew there was something fishy about this Pokemon game. –

By Jordan Riefe –

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Oliver Stone: Nicolas Genin/Flickr

Controversy and Oliver Stone have never been strange bedfellows. He courted it with movies like “JFK,” “Nixon” and “Natural Born Killers,” and last week, he made headlines in the unlikely milieu of Comic-Con, where he spoke about the dangers of surveillance capitalism and “Pokémon Go.” While his admonitions drew ample eye-rolling, Stone’s points about domestic spying and surveillance capitalism are not to be dismissed as paranoid conspiracy theory.

The term “surveillance capitalism,” coined by Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard Business School professor, in her essay “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization,” has been described as the monetization of behavioral data acquired through surveillance and sold for premium prices. Since the release of “Pokémon Go,” the popular, location-based, augmented-reality mobile game has come under scrutiny for requesting wide-ranging permissions on users’ devices that have since been scaled back. In addition, Niantic, the game’s developer, has been asked by some in Congress to explain its data-gathering techniques.

“You’ll see a new form of a robot society where they will know how you behave,” Stone said at Comic-Con. “And then they’ll make a mock-up that matches how you behave and leads you into a certain kind of behavior. It’s what they call totalitarianism.”

Pretty heady stuff for the cosplay crowd, which was more interested in hearing Joseph Gordon-Levitt talk about getting the voice of Edward Snowden down for his performance in Stone’s latest, “Snowden,” which will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September and open in theaters on Sept. 16.

Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who moved to Moscow to be with him. Melissa Leo stars as filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Zachary Quinto plays Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke the story.

“No one has seen, in the history of the world, things like Google, ever. It’s the biggest, new, fastest-growing business ever. And they have invested a huge amount of money into what surveillance is, data-mining,” Stone warned the crowd. “They’re data-mining every single person in this room for information as to what you’re buying, what you like, about all your behavior.”

When Stone was asked why he seems to court controversy with his movies, he suggested controversy had a way of finding him rather than the other way around. In this case, he was approached by Snowden’s human rights lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena. Though hesitant at first, Stone couldn’t resist taking a meeting in Moscow with the former National Security Agency contractor.

“Getting to know him, him trusting this process, he was not particularly interested in a movie,” Stone said of his subject, adding that he keeps a close eye on the movement to reform surveillance, which reached a milestone last year with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, curtailing NSA and FBI authority. “I met him all the time under conditions of secrecy. And I found him to be going through a painful period, and I found him to be very resolute and very strong. He was only 29 years old when he did this enormous thing.”

While Stone had trepidation about again taking on a controversial subject, he quickly found he wasn’t alone. Not one studio in Hollywood was interested in financing the movie. Whether it was the touchy nature of the subject or the fact that this type of film has been long out of fashion at the studios is anybody’s guess.

“Self-censorship is a huge issue in this country, and it blocks so much of the truth from coming out,” he concluded. As he told an audience earlier this year at Sun Valley, he decided to take the production to Germany to avoid the prying eyes of the NSA, and, no doubt, for his German and French investors to take advantage of tax incentives.

“They’ve been through the Stasi, World War II, the Communists after World War II and Gestapo during the war. They have a respect for privacy, really strong. And they are big supporters of Snowden,” he said of his German hosts.

Less supportive have been film distributors in getting “Snowden” to market. But Open Road, the company behind last year’s Oscar winner “Spotlight,” will show the movie in U.S. theaters and some 20 foreign territories around the world. Needless to say, the NSA and CIA have little interest in supporting the film, even though box-office hits like “Argo”—about the rescue of American hostages from Iran—and “Zero Dark Thirty”—about the hunt for Osama bin Laden—both received ample access to CIA experts to help craft stories and fudge the facts in order to make the agency look heroic.

Instead, Snowden himself consulted on the script—co-written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald and based on Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide”—providing technical NSA and CIA procedures and lingo. “Ed told us he feels that they’re obviously going to hate the movie,” Stone said about the NSA. “But he thinks that it’s a seed, and many people [working there] feel more in the middle about what they’re doing.”

Following Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary, “Citizenfour,” Stone’s movie can only be a chapter in the ongoing Snowden saga. The famed whistleblower continues to live in exile, working remotely with activists writing what Stone called a “constitution of the internet” and revealing to the world only some of what he learned during his time at the NSA and CIA.

“He’s still a mystery,” Stone said. “There are things we don’t know, and there are things he will, one day, hopefully reveal in a book of his own.”


To read the version of the story with links, click here to go to Truthdig.com.

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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