Opinion

Charles: Who’s watching you?

Raise your hand if something like this has happened to you:

A few years ago, I developed pain in my right heel. It was worse in the morning, but after a few minutes of walking on it, the pain went away. It took awhile before I realized that this had become chronic, so I Googled my symptoms (because this is the way we all diagnose ourselves these days) and discovered I had plantar fasciitis. I also was told by my friends who had suffered from it previously, that it would eventually go away, in about eight or nine months. In the meantime, there is a brace you can pick up at your local drugstore, and when you wear it while sleeping, it keeps your foot in an odd, flexed position, but your heel doesn’t hurt in the morning.

I had asked Ms. Google, who apparently gossiped to Ms. Yahoo, because suddenly the top ad on my Yahoo page showed the same type of brace I had just purchased. So who told her my foot hurt?

When Edward Snowden was either trashed as a traitor or hailed as a hero for revealing that the NSA was spying on us all, I did neither. It was a ho-hum moment for me. The NSA is the least of my worries. Marketers, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, et. al, already have all our information — and they have had it, and shared it, for a long time.

Listen, I’m only a medium-level conspiracy theorist. I’m not sure if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, if James Earl Ray was another patsy, if Sirhan Sirhan was one of several shooters. I don’t think the World Trade Center tragedy was an inside job, I know Sandy Hook really did happen (along with the multitudes of school shootings before and since). I don’t believe there’s a Deep State, but I do know there’s no such thing as alternative facts. Those are called lies, folks.

But I also believe that we are being watched via online shopping, or even online browsing. One of my favorite television shows was “Person of Interest.” A part of me thinks it was a documentary.

Now I’m online, in some form or another, every day. I wake up and check the weather, the news, my email, my messages. Like way too many of us, I’m rarely far from my phone if I’m out and about.

But I don’t feel the need the “check in” everywhere I go. I don’t like using Location Services on my phone unless I need to find, say, the closest Starbucks or Target. I never go on vacation and post pictures while I’m away. I don’t check in with Facebook every time I check into a hotel. Really, the people who need to know where I am already do. Nobody else cares.

I also don’t allow Facebook to have access to my contact list. Like everyone else, not all my contacts are friends. Sometimes they are business associates, work colleagues, acquaintances, friends of my daughter — all kinds of people I don’t want to be annoyed by my friend requests, invitations and updates of my latest tirade. And yet …

All these different internet entities are in cahoots. And it’s not just Ms. Google whispering to Ms. Yahoo about my foot.

A month or so ago, I went on an online dance store site to buy a new pair of shoes. And then, suddenly my Facebook page ads were all about the footwear I had just bought. Every day. Same shoes, same ad. When I finally eliminated it, they wanted to know why. Was this ad inappropriate? No, I wanted to scream at the screen. I just bought the darn shoes, why do you keep trying to sell me more?

And it’s more than a minor annoyance. It’s downright frightening. Have you ever looked at Facebook’s list of people you may know? Some of these ties are incredibly tenuous, and with far too many, there isn’t even a mutual friend connection. And you know your name is probably popping up on these strangers’ lists also.

It’s hard to guard your privacy online. Even if you’re careful and only send requests to people you actually know, there is constant trolling for information on what you buy, who you support, and who you just added to your contact list. Even when you don’t share your contact list. This was brought home to me when I added the name and phone number of one of my physicians to my phonebook, only to see her profile pop up the next day(!) as someone I might want to friend. She’s very nice — and I can’t think of anything more inappropriate or stalkerish. One of my friends uses a fake name for her profile so her clients won’t try and friend her.

As I’ve said, I’m only a medium-level conspiracy theorist. But this can make one paranoid. Another friend recounted how she was in her house talking about needing cold medicine and the ad for cold medicine popped up on her feed when she went online. And it wasn’t a Siri, Alexa in the house kind of thing. But someone was listening. When I read that Mark Zuckerberg covers up his webcam on his computer so you can’t tell where he is, I thought, huh? Then I read that there are apps out there that can remotely turn on your camera and you can be watched without knowing it (the light doesn’t even come on). All of our computer cameras are covered with band aids now, removable only when we use it for Facetime.

The expectation of privacy is fast becoming just a memory.

And that song lyric, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me,” is becoming a bit too on the nose.  

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