- Downright stupid
- Paranoid, or
I’m no Luddite, but I was the last of my generation not to be offered a course in computer programming in secondary school (the course was only made available the following year). Consequently, my technological education has been experience-led with a smattering of adult education for garnish. I use a computer several times every day, I use a smartphone much more frequently and I consider my self to be reasonably aware of the remorseless march of technological development into our daily lives.
Since I use Facebook to regularly stay in touch with far-flung relatives and friends, I’m familiar with having advertisements appear following recent searches for products or even merely information. I understand that the internet is an unwinkingly prying beast, and every time I press some keys, a metaphorical alarm goes off somewhere deep in the servers of some vast retail entity, preparing itself to hurl its wares at me in the hope of inspiring me to empty my wallet.
What I haven’t been prepared for – and what I’m still trying to come to terms with – is for my computer (or phone, it’s impossible to tell which) – to be listening to me. Over the course of the last few months, I’ve become aware (at my normal slow learning speed) of online advertising coinciding with verbal conversations – and only verbal conversations – that I’ve had in the preceding twenty-four hours.
It began, most worryingly of all – with a conversation I had with my wife about transferring some money to my daughter’s account. The next day: boom. An advert (from my own bank) for e-transferring money from my bank account to that of a relative popped its head over the parapet. I was surprised at first. My surprise evolved into shock, followed by no little alarm. A few days later, the same thing happened, this time in relation to a plan for holiday travel to a specific destination.
It’s happened several times since then, the most recent examples being in the last week when first a conversation about Antarctic cruises and then a discussion about insulin pumps both elicited next-day advertisements on my Facebook page. Let me be clear; these are not common subjects for discussion - they are unusual and extremely specific topics. The chances of these advertisements arriving by sheer coincidence is very, very small (and I don’t believe in such coincidences anyway).
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I acknowledge that the world of marketing is ever more complex, ever more technologically advanced. It may mark me out as a dinosaur, but it bothers me that someone (or more likely, some machine running complex algorithms) might be listening to us through our devices, and using the gathered information – some of it sensitive – for commercial purposes. It bothers me that I may not have the privacy I have always taken for granted. It bothers me that my spoken word - and by association, my thoughts - are being mined by faceless strangers.
Perhaps it’s time to treat my supposedly inert devices like untrustworthy busybodies…