Always Watching, Always Using

Imagine being in a life transition and the worst possible scenario occurs. This is what happened to Virgina Eubanks and her partner, Jason. When you get a new job your insurance switches and there may be a period of time when you are without. For Eubanks, her and her partner’s insurance had quickly started up — or so they thought. Jason encountered a very unfortunate accident which left them with high medical bills, pricey prescriptions, and physical therapy. They soon learned that the start date for their new insurance was after the incident. They had been red-flagged (Eubanks 2-3). Eubanks, determined to get what’s right, fought back. The thing about Virginia and Jason’s encounter was that she knew what was going on and knew what to do about it. Unfortunately, most people would not know the warning signs of a fraudulent scandal. 

The truth us, there are an abundance of people that get used all of the time. It is unbelievably easy. The government, including insurance agencies, knows everything about everyone. This makes us, especially poor people and families, simple targets. We are always being watched. Eukbanks even states “digital tracking and decision-making systems have become routine…I started to hear them described as forces of control, manipulation, and punishment” (9-10). This is exactly what technology has done and is continuing to do. Low-income, working, and poor people/families get it the worst. Typically, if they are in this financial situation, they will not have access to all of the growing technologies. Because of this, it makes them easy to use and manipulate because even if it is the companies fault, most of the time they won’t take blame. Chances are these people will not know what’s going on nor how to handle it correctly. Therefore, they end up in a predicament where they owe all of this money that they don’t have leaving them drowning in debt or filing for bankruptcy. This being said, even if they do realize what is unfairly happening to them they most likely do not have the means to approach it through the court of law. On the other hand, they also do not have the financial income or stability to let insurance agencies, or any company for that matter, take advantage of them when they are already struggling. So, what do they do?

When I was reading this passage by Virginia Eubanks, it really opened my eyes. It made me think of the time when my mom had lost her job and we had lost our insurance. I remember her scrambling around to find something that would work. This happened again when my sister got her own insurance and we no longer were eligible for the plan that we had. Feeling like this for a short period of time was stressful enough, I couldn’t even imagine having to worry all of the time. Eubanks states, “poor and working-class people are targeted by new tools of digital poverty management and face life-threatening consequences as a result” (11). If life wasn’t hard enough, let’s just make it a little more complicated for those who are already struggling. If it wasn’t for having opportunities to technologies and resources, my mom wouldn’t have found an insurance for us as fast as she did. Not everyone has the ability to access technologies; therefore, they are always several steps behind and lacking necessities for everyday health, for everyday life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since there is such a big group associated with digital poverty, what are some other ways information can be given and resources provided? 
  2. Do you think that there are specific groups and people that get targeted more than others? If yes, why?
  3. Do you think companies should reimburse, or work with, people who experience an issue with them due to a technical error or glitch in the system? 
  4. Which do you think is better in relation to companies and handling personal information: technology or actual people?

By, Allison


Source: Eubanks, Virginia. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor.

2 Replies to “Always Watching, Always Using”

  1. Hi Allison,
    Thank you for sharing your personal experience in this blog post, it gives more insight into another person’s perspective. A similar thing actually happened to my family and thankfully we also got covered. I think red-flagging insurance through algorithm is an insane problem we are currently dealing with and very unfortunate for families who are doing their best to get by. I do believe there is a group that is being targeted more than others, and that is People of Color (POC). Furthermore, I believe it is mainly poor African and Latinx groups who are being targeted due to racism and discrimination. As Eubanks states, “The digital poorhouse is part of a long American tradition (13),” emphasizing the racism that has been embedded since colonization of the United States of America. The United States of America marginalizes poor POC and tracks their statements unlike other groups of people in the same situation. According to Tello, “It is well-established that blacks and other minority groups in the U.S. experience more illness, worse outcomes, and premature death compared with whites (1).” Furthermore, when a person of color goes to a medical facility many times those individuals feel belittled or do not get the proper care due to racism and discrimination.

    Tello, Monique. “Racism and Discrimination in Health Care: Providers and Patients.” Harvard Health Blog, 12 Jan. 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/racism-discrimination-health-care-providers-patients-2017011611015.

  2. Hi Allison!! Great blog post! Thank you for sharing your personal story with us and I am sorry that you had to experience that stressful situation. To answer your second question, I do think that there are specific groups and people that get more targeted than others. In “The Digital Poorhouse”, Eubanks writes “people of color, migrants, stigmatized religious groups, sexual minorities, the poor, and other oppressed and exploited populations bear a much heavier burden of monitoring, tracking, and social sorting than advantaged groups”. Personally, I believe that people in a higher socio-economic class have more resources, opportunities, and advantages in technologies that allow them to not experience the issues with digital poverty. As sad as it is to say, those groups that Eubanks mentions are simply “easy targets” due to their lack of resources, opportunities, and advantages. The other problem with this unfair and biased system is that the people with power in charge of this “digital poorhouse” are the “small elite” (Eubanks). With this knowledge, we can understand that this social hierarchy is primarily lead by elites which are dominantly white people.

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