When I became a computer operator (now referred to as a computer “technician”) at the Vancouver Public Library back in the early 80s, it was an enormous task to enter the name of every book and periodical, and every patron, into our new system. We hired a group of people for that task, and they literally spent months and months tucked away in a room, doing nothing but data entry.
It amused us at the time that a few of the patrons were worried about their information being put into a computer system. Who would see their names and addresses? Who would have access to their records? We rolled our eyes at their paranoia.
Little did we know that 40 years later, we’d be carrying devices in our pockets that knew almost everything about us even when we didn’t mean for them to. Not only that, but those little devices could also broadcast whatever they knew about us anywhere in the world, to whomever wanted that info.
Last year around this time, we were on what would be our last (sob) vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, before this COVID thing hit. We were walking through a market when I spotted a t-shirt on a woman about my age, and it made me laugh. I can’t remember now exactly what it said, but it wasn’t anything I’d seen anywhere before, and I thought it was pretty funny.
So I giddily told my husband and my daughter about it after we had passed the woman.
Back at our condo that evening I was on my iPad perusing Facebook when I saw that very t-shirt in my Facebook feed. It was a unique t-shirt, so I knew it wasn’t a fluke. That was the first time I realized just how little privacy I actually had. Suddenly, those long-ago library patrons questioning where their info was going to be seen or accessed, weren’t so paranoid to me anymore. My phone was actually listening to me.
As we have all discovered, the technology and algorithms on our phones and other devices are mapping our routes, listening to us, and watching every Google search we make.
A lot of people have quit Facebook for many reasons, including that privacy issue. Facebook pretty much makes all of its revenue (in 2020, close to $86 billion US) from businesses, big and small, who want your dollars. Of course, that’s what advertising is for, and what would businesses and companies do if they couldn’t advertise?
What bothers me is the sneaky little way that technology is figuring out what you might want to spend your money on. It feels creepy. It’s like some sleazy guy followed you as you walked through the mall, and watched as you eyed that new red dress. Then he shows up in the parking lot with the red dress, trying to convince you to buy it from him as you’re attempting to get into your car. That kind of creepy. And so much more.
Because, now imagine thousands of sleazy guys following you through the mall, every one of them carefully watching to see which purchases you might be considering. That’s closer to reality.
What’s even worse is how we are targeted by political ads. The fallout from that has been witnessed in such a distressful way with our neighbours to the south. “Freedom of speech,” the tech companies say. More like “freedom to spew bull poop”.
In spite of all of this, my 149 friends and I are still on Facebook. Oh, there have been a few who’ve left, especially after some of the negative publicity that Facebook has received. And others have un-friended me for reasons I cannot fathom. What did I do? What did I say? It feels like being dumped.
And why are the rest of us still scrolling our Facebook feeds? That’s a good question, which I am sure has many answers. For me, it’s about staying in touch with friends and family, especially during these difficult times. Sure, there are other ways to do that, but at this point, the convenience that Facebook offers is unparalleled, at least for me.
Many of us are waiting for the day that these social media companies will be held more accountable for their content, and take greater responsibility for their massive influence. We can always hope?
Me, I’m just trying to keep my voice down, in case that creepy guy on my phone is still listening. Shhhh!