Like the recent Facebook privacy hoax, every now and then something kicks us awake, reminding us that our data on the internet might be vulnerable to snooping. We frantically check our settings to make sure our information is safe. We have the illusion that if aunt Mildred can’t see the pictures of last night’s party or the message you sent your cousin about how stupid she looked in the green dress the other night, nobody can.
A few years ago, I decided to sort my finances and get organized. I went out and bought folders and a bunch of neat office-labelling stuff. As I started sorting my credit card receipts and telephone bills, I noticed that I had a detailed profile of my when-where-whats of the past month. It frustrated me to think that this guy in a call centre, a few thousand miles away, could see what I was seeing now with just a click on his monitor. I went mad, decided to fight the system and cancelled all my credit cards, paying cash wherever possible. I felt like a rebel, someone who had taken control. An illusion.
Today I am aware that, my weather app is following my every step to tell me if it is raining on my head or not; my Foursquare app has an eye on me to recommend the closest possibility to spend some money. Similarly, your fitness tracker knows when and how much you move; the sleeptracker knows your sleeping habits and can guess how often you have sex; Uber knows that you visit a certain hotel every Thursday night; Google puts one and one together and guesses that you are cheating with the girl from HR and every single social media app knows what you had for lunch. If you decide to turn off your phone and watch some TV, read the fine print first
‘Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.’
If you decide to go to a more “private” place during the break, the camera on your TV will inform someone when you left and for how long, to get statistics on your reaction to ads, and the credit card company most probably knows which magazines you are reading on the pot.
Frankly I am more concerned about what aunt Mildred knows, there is nothing I can do about the rest. My rebellion has given way to me accepting my fate as a transparent citizen. Big Brother isn’t the Stalinist figure visualized by George Orwell, monitoring my thoughts and actions to hinder any political awakening, it is the neat gadget in my hand, advising me on what to wear, which music to listen to, which movie to watch, what to eat and drink, and how to think.