Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Real Big Brother

All the recent controversy about what the NSA and other government agencies know (or could know) about U.S. citizens has given me cause to stop and wonder what they might know about me, and how much I  should care.  After a cursory study of articles on the subject, I’ve decided my fear of Big Brother surveillance could be better spent in other areas.

It doesn’t worry me if our government knows where my calls originate, where and whom I call, and if I utter identified “trigger words.”  While I wouldn’t want the content of my private conversations made public, I have nothing to hide as it relates to this level of data.  I understand there needs to be a balance between privacy and protection, but even here, I tip the scale in favor of protection.  Technology may be one of our few effective defenses against terrorism of any origin. 
  
What really freaks me out is what Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, Lowes, Harris Teeter, Target and dozens of other companies who develop profiles on their customers know about me.  It’s as if they follow me around with a clipboard taking notes on my activities, interests and shopping habits.   Even if I didn’t browse the internet (which I do), they know what a retired, married, middle-aged man living in the North Carolina mountains is likely to find interesting.  What’s even more amazing is these electronic retailers and social networking sites share information as effectively as the FBI, NSA and Homeland Security… probably better. 

I woke up Wednesday morning to an email from Harris Teeter reminding me that Thursday was senior day (an age classification that seems to shift lower each year), providing me with a list of grocery items I frequently purchase, and pointing me to BOGOs of those items I was overdue to buy.   Then, when I signed on to Facebook, the right sidebar filled with ads for products and services selected specifically for me.   An ad for sliding barn doors was at the top--not exactly a widely popular item.   The prior evening I had wondered what a barn door would look like separating our den and sunroom.   I think I searched for examples on Google, but I’m not positive.  Could they have read my mind? 

At this point, I think Amazon knows more about me than most of my friends and family members.  In fact, I expect Amazon and other retailers will be soon offering electronic eulogies for departed customers in an effort to extract one final sale.  Mine would probably go something like this:

"Donn was an avid Packer fan.  He recently ordered an Aaron Rodgers NFL jersey, size extra-large.  Unfortunately, the deceased struggled with his weight later in life.  His Brett Favre jerseys had been mediums."