These days it's pretty hard to be a functioning member of society and also be 'off the grid'. Credit card purchases have been tracked for years, but now pretty much everything we do is monitored and cataloged and sold to advertisers who want to know everything there is to know about you. And now it appears that those 'free apps' we use are even listening to our conversations.
Why would they do that?! Are they selling our secrets to the government?!!
Although it's been said that the NSA is able to secretly turn on your phone and listen to you without you knowing it, this is a bit different. If you have an app on your phone and you're using it while having a conversation, you might not just be rude, but also allowing that app to listen in on your conversation. Why would they care? Because advertisers want to know if your friend is suggesting going camping, so they can offer to sell you a tent or other supplies.
That's REALLY creepy.
Yes it is, unknown commenter in my post. Yes it is. But there are some good things about it!
What could be good about companies spying on you?!
Well, first you get a top-notch app for no cost. These companies have to make money somehow, and this is how! It would cost each person so much to use these apps, that few would actually do it. Second, since they're going to be throwing advertisements at you anyway, at least they will be offering products that you might be interested in. This makes the ads cheaper since they have to send it to less people, and more impactful. After all, if you rent an apartment, you don't really need to see ads for lawn mowers, right?
Yeah, but... recording our conversations?!
I didn't say recording. They just monitor keywords to offer you more specific ads. You get a free service and the ads are more relevant to you. Granted, you give up your privacy to get that, but it's not like they're watching you shower. Most of what we do online is public anyway. Does it really bother you that Coke knows that you prefer Pepsi? And there could be other benefits, too. What if your phone knew you were in the market for new shoes and when you walked by a store, it told you about a sale they were having? Or maybe you were thinking about getting a 3D printer, but hadn't really started looking yet, and a new model was coming out in your price range. Yeah, it's unnerving, but it's a part of our reality, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.
How could it get worse?!
In most areas, if you're in public, that's considered public information. So what if stores started having facial recognition? Or if billboards captured your license plate numbers to see where you traveled and then cross-referenced that with public sales records to see who owned the car? Soon, we might have no escape from such technology. The real question is, should we fight it, or embrace it?
Fighting it will be tough, as I've shown above. It's really hard to be a functioning member of society without a smart phone or a car or using public transit or a computer. Sure, it's possible, but it's not easy. And just to avoid ads for stuff that you actually want? So maybe we should just accept it. We get cheap stuff, they get to target us for their ads. It's not really that bad, is it? Or is it?
Oh, what else is there?! Are they putting trackers in our food?!!
Not that I know of... yet! Seriously, though, there is a major downside to all of this lack of privacy beside just creepiness. Targeted ads aren't so bad, but manipulation is. If they know everything about us, political parties could use that information to target us with propaganda. Advertisers could play on our emotions to actually impact our mood (like making us sad to sell more comfort food). This level of manipulation should be outlawed, but how can we tell the difference? How would we even know if Facebook was manipulating our mood?
It would be really difficult to write legislation banning such practices, but not impossible. Still, I think the best defense is to become more savvy consumers of media. We need to be our own guardians of our emotions. There are courses that I think every student should have to take, or articles you can read. It's really on us to make sure we're not manipulated by fake news. Because it won't just stop there. There are lots of powerful organizations that thrive on apathy and ignorance. So it's our duty to stop being naive about propaganda. They wouldn't use it if it didn't work. So be the person that doesn't get duped by it and hopefully they'll stop using it on us.
Have you ever caught Facebook or another company listening to your conversation? Share your stories in the comments!