How Long Until We Hit 1984?

We’ve all heard the warnings. Be careful what you put on the internet. Don’t let too much slip. Remember that email/message/internet search is not secure. Don’t put anything on Facebook you would want your employer/parent/grandparent to see. Advertisers/Hackers/Identity Thieves will use that information you are sharing. We’ve heard the privacy warnings so often that they’ve begun to sound like the boy who cried wolf. The important thing to remember about that story, though, is that one day the wolf did come. The question is when will that day be? Or is it already here?

In an article from NPR, Joseph Turow talks about how in a “perfect society” everything we do on the internet, our mobile phones, other electronic devices, and what we watch on television will all be connected and all feed back to advertisers. While I hold a rather ambivalent view toward advertisers collecting my data, this seems like a perfect society for the advertisers and no one else. I have accepted that advertisers will track my internet use and use that data to personalize ads. I have no issue with that, sometimes an ad may remind me of a movie I’d been meaning to see or an item that I’d find useful. Sometimes I’m glad for the ads presented to me. I do not, however, want to see advertisers extend their reach to my cell phone usage. If I text my mother asking her to pick up some strawberries the next time she goes to the store, I should not see Driscolls ads the next time I log on to Facebook. That would be going too far.

He also talks about companies going into smart phones and gaining information through their address book, their photos, and even turning their camera on to see the owner’s friends and location. These actions appear, to me, to be a complete breach of privacy. A phone is not secure, but I and I doubt many people, expect that their calls or their non-internet related activities would be tracked. I had not even thought about someone having the ability to remote access my phone, despite the number of sci-fi and detective stories I’ve watched and read. Now that I think about it, however, It seems completely plausible and I currently see no way to stop the properly trained person from doing so.

A New York Times article talks about how companies, campaigns, and even some non-retail businesses are doing everything they can to create profiles of you and the way your brain works in order to predict what you will need and what you might want to buy. In this way, they hope that if they provide you with the right ads at the right time you will develop a habit of shopping, voting, contributing, traveling, or investing in a way that helps them.

Google’s new Privacy Policy makes this much easier. As explained by NPR, everything done in a product under the Google umbrella, that means everything searched in their search engine, watched on YouTube, written in an email, and shared on Google Docs or Google + can now be mixed together to customize your ad experience. While simplifying the privacy statement can be a good thing it does bring us closer to the day that the wolf will finally show up.

The invasions on our privacy now are not extreme and they can end up helping us out sometimes. We can’t go through life never spending any money and sometimes that ad is just what we want or need to buy. However, we have to consider a line. The more companies invade our privacy the better they can customize themselves to fit our needs, but, the more they invade our privacy the more they can control us. I have no issue with the situation now, but I do not want to live in a world controlled by a Big Brother figure, and, if we aren’t careful we may find ourselves bypassing 1984 completely and ending up in 2000.

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