“I’M MAD AS HELL. AND I DON’T WANT TAKE IT ANYMORE.”
– Paddy Chayefsky, “Network” 1976
Last Monday, I was at the office working late doing some research and answering emails. There no one was in the office, no one to talk to out in the biz world, so I settled down to write emails and do some research. I was “in the flow!”
At some point, an email came in from a recruiter I know, reconnecting with me. We had a short back and forth and I went back to work. I was doing some research in our Fintech space and came across a company I’d kind of heard off – but never explored…let’s call that company FindMoney (not a real company, and if it is, it’s not the one I’m referring to). So I go to Google, search for the company, find it and then go briefly to their website. It didn’t seem that interesting to me so I quickly went back to my research and stayed in the office another hour or so.
Fast forward to two hours later, after dinner at home, I’m on my sofa, watching TV (I don’t have cable anymore, I cut that cord a long time ago and now only stream thanks to Hulu) – I now have access to all the broadcast TV I want without the broadcast TV I don’t want. I love it. So I was watching one of my favorite news shows, still working…and then it dawns on me…I’ve seen TWO commercials for recruiting…one for a popular job search site and one for an actual recruiting software.
What caught my mind and made me realize that I was watching recruiting related commercials that I had never really seen with such timely concentration and accuracy was actually a commercial for FindMoney, yes…FindMoney, a commercial for a company I never heard of before that night, and one I had never seen a commercial for ever was ‘broadcasting’ a full scale broadcast TV quality commercial production at me…the very night I searching for it online…
The interesting thing to me was not that I was being targeted…that notion does not rock my world…what’s interesting to me was the tracking and targeting jumped from one totally unrelated platform to another, i.e. Google to Hulu and resulted in a custom broadcast tv-level ad.
I am not naive. I’ve been saying that privacy is dead for years and years, and we just better adapt. But somehow that realization, and the awareness that I was being served up commercials on Hulu based on what I had searched on Google THAT night (in addition to an email that I’d received on my corporate Gmail), THAT gave me a sense of violation and somehow I felt like a line had been crossed to an unacceptable level of invasion of my privacy.
As a technologist, I’m very aware of all the data that’s being collected about me and sold without my knowledge and my true consent. I’m aware of all the conversations that my various devices are listening to, all the cross-referencing and extrapolations from search and browsing and buying and paying and going places, all the profiling that Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon – The Horsemen, as I like to call them – do. Yes, data collection and data mining by Five Horsemen – has become the quiet societal cancer of our time and we didn’t even realize the depth of what was happening. That our virtual life, and virtual communities are being raped and pillaged for our personal habits, preferences, location, spending patterns, curiosity, idea, likes and dislikes. We didn’t understand (and somehow neither did they) that they were abandoning our rights and violating our trust in the most fundamental way, in the name of convenience, connectivity, free access to information, attention span and all the ‘good things’ the digital life has been offering and cursing us with.
But actually, we’ve learned – There IS NO free. There is always a price. And we are paying every day for this comfort and convenience, for the seemingly free information in our LIVES.
And the Horsemen? They are profiting and growing, growing and profiting, profiting and abusing our basic civil rights to the degree that we are now all just numbers, data and profiles on some master spreadsheet somewhere – where our souls are only ‘preferences’ for sale to the highest bidder.
What an incredible and dastardly turn of events worthy of Orwell, of the aspirations of the Great Dictators of the past.
No. No one read and no one cared because the object was way too shiny to fret about the fine print. And is it goes… Now we need to contemplate the predicament that our desires created and we are squarely in.
How in the world do we get out ??? How do we look ahead and plot a future where we don’t continue to degenerate into a global surveillance society? These are cardinal questions of enormous proportions and funny enough can be summarized in one thought. Demanding a return to the respect of people’s privacy in a complete way.
And this should be an active not passive affair. The memory of Peter Finch in the great 1976 film “Network” urging/demanding that everyone to resist by screaming at the top of their lungs that they are fed up and can’t take it anymore is a good start. That you’ve got to say “I’m a human being goddammit – my life has value. I’m mad as hell…”
But, of course, this is just the start.
(To be continued)