What They Know About You

As a kid, I was a big fan of comic books. My favourite was Superman and I also got hooked on DC’s Justice League, a team of superheroes. Growing up, I read less and less; comics got more expensive – from 10¢ a copy, to a quarter, to 50¢, to over a buck. They also got a lot darker; Superman suddenly had a lot of personal problems, even if he was drawn with much more subtlety than what I knew in the 60’s. I read Batman as well, but not as much; he always seemed to be conflicted. Their weaknesses didn’t endear me so much to these superheroes. I wanted them to be… Super.

For many years I couldn’t get the idea of having superpowers out of my head. This, many, many years before it became a staple of today’s TV dramas, with detectives, law enforcement officers, lawyers and doctors all possessing some kind of super normal power that aids them in defeating crime or disease or evil aliens.

Up until my teens, my nighttime dream life was often about flying, possessing super powers and helping out victims of crime, or solving global problems. Getting to sleep at night always seemed easier if I could imagine myself taking off into the clouds. Even today, flying is one of my favourite dream themes.

In the back of the comic book, a couple of ads sold strange things. One of them was special glasses that helped you see through things, your hands, walls, anything. I never bought them but I once bought sea monkeys, those weird things that came in an envelope and miraculously appeared in a bowl of water for a day or two before disappearing.

Today, we’re obsessed with powers, super normal powers. I think that Donald Trump’s appeal is his great confidence in the belief that he possesses a distinct, very rare power to bring about dramatic change in society, change that for years has eluded the professional political class that he so obviously despises, running (ruining, to him) things.

The other day, while driving to my weekly bridge game in Cowansville, I caught an interview with experts and writers on the subject of Facebook and individual privacy.

It seems that if you have a Facebook account, you have none.

Facebook, through its secret algorithms, collects everything that it possibly could about you – where you shop, who you know, what you read, which political party you probably vote for, even which websites you visit when you’re not on Facebook (if the site happens to have a Facebook link, which is most sites). Facebook even knows what your friends are doing online.

This knowledge is profitable because advertisers are always eager to zero in on potential customers and pay Facebook for its extensive knowledge of over its two billion users in order to send you focused advertising. It saves them time and money to send their ads to those people most likely to buy their product.

What all the commentators were concerned about regarding this almost complete lack of privacy is how the potential is there for abuse, particularly to the poor and less educated. (Facebook knows more about you than governments do…)

It is alarming that a corporation was able to pull the wool over our eyes so completely in the past eight or nine years. In accepting Facebook’s conditions (we may not read the small print) we are handing over permission to for it to track and sell almost every detail of our lives which use of the Internet provides, and that is quite a lot.

online-privacy

This is a case of too much power, still I was curious when looking at my Facebook feed what kind of Sponsored ads I was getting based on what Facebook knew about me.

Firstly, I was being offered, on a daily basis, a great deal from The New York Times for its digital version. I finally succumbed recently, for $1 a month, for this subscription, and couldn’t be more pleased. I have always wished that I could get the Times in the mail and am much more impressed by the quality of its writing than what I was reading on my ABC or NBC News app.

This first example seemed to illustrate that the information offered by Google to the Times had not led to too nefarious a result.

This morning, I checked again. There was a sponsored ad with a photo of Netflix’s House of Cards actor Keven Spacey. I only gave it a cursory glance before thinking, “Oh, they blew it! They want me to take an online acting course!” As if that were possible…

Looking more closely, I noticed that it was for an online writing course.

OMG, they had got me! Obviously, Facebook’s algorithm outed me as a writer! My modest, only-50-or-60-or-70-or-howdoIknowhowmanyanyway?-followers blog was somehow transmitted to a guy or school offering online writing courses!

Wow. Impressive…

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