Google and Facebook will inherit the Earth, because knowledge is power.
And I’m not talking about the kind of knowledge we accumulate with age, such as tying a square knot and the ability to point to Oregon on a map in less than 30 seconds.
I’m talking about the kind of knowledge once reserved for a very select circle of family and friends. The kind of knowledge big corporations and government agencies are willing to pay Google and Facebook lots and lots of money for.
There is nothing private about our lives today. We’ve traded our privacy for convenience. And I’m afraid we will one day pay a terrible price for having done that.
There was a time we cherished our privacy. That was back in the days when we actually trusted our government (to the extent that anyone can trust a government) to protect us from all enemies foreign and domestic. We thought we’d seen the last of the Joseph McCarthys. We figured Big Brother was something made for science fiction novels and that our government could never possibly become the domestic enemy it was sworn to protect us from.
Recent and repeated reports of government domestic spying — ranging from email hacks to phone taps to social network hijackings — ought to make it pretty clear by now that Big Brother is watching.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not as guilty as the other billion or so Facebook users willing to share anything at any time with anyone. Just the other night I took a picture of my rooster and posted it for my 2,000 or so closest friends.
My rooster got 15 or 20 “likes” and even a few comments, such as, “Nice rooster!” and “My rooster could kick your rooster’s tail!”
Somewhere “out there,” someone was making notes about my rooster photo that could be valuable to a company looking to know as much as it possibly can about what I like and don’t like.
“Jeff Ackerman likes roosters.”
“Jeff Ackerman has six friends who also like roosters.”
“Jeff Ackerman has three friends who are idiots and don’t know that roosters don’t lay eggs.”
“Jeff Ackerman’s rooster probably eats chicken food, which will be very interesting to, say Purina, or other rooster food makers.”
Then there is the government cyber spy who also notices my Facebook post.
“Jeff Ackerman likes roosters.”
“Muslims also like roosters.”
“Jeff Ackerman could be a rooster-loving jihadist.”
A study by the National Academy of Sciences found that Facebook’s “like” button could reveal some personal secrets, such as your sexuality, or religious or political views.
The fact that someone is actually studying your Facebook page ought to be chilling enough (LOL).
Then there is my phone.
If the government hacked into my phone (and I will assume it has, since we aren’t the best of friends), it probably determined fairly quickly that I’m pretty boring.
I don’t really use my phone for, you know, phoning. I don’t even know why they call it a cellphone. I mostly use my phone to check the weather, get directions, check emails and, at night — as an alarm clock.
Sometimes I use it to take pictures of my rooster.
If Uncle Sam bugged my home he’d be hard-pressed to stay awake.
“Honey, have you seen the remote control?”
“Where did you leave it?”
“If I knew that I wouldn’t be asking you.”
The best place to get the goods on me would be in my car, which is also possible, since my car is equipped with Bluetooth technology, which basically means someone is tracking my shopping patterns.
I talk to myself all the time in my car. I say things I probably wouldn’t say in public. I especially say them when I’m listening to talk radio. There is no question that some pretty big corporations would pay a lot of money to know what I talk to myself about on the way to and from work.
“God, I wish they made a shampoo that grew hair.”
“I wonder if hemorrhoid lotion really does get rid of the wrinkles under the eyes.”
“If I bought the wrong kind of milk, she’s going to kill me.”
“Whatever they are paying that guy to stand on the corner with that sign, it’s not enough.”
According to a Wall Street Journal report last week, Facebook will soon introduce technology that will allow it to collect even more information by tracking cursor movements on your screen.
“While you’re apparently aimlessly working your computer mouse or touchpad, pondering where to click next while running through a webpage, your brain is actually making choices,” read a story from Reuters’ news service. “And Facebook is determined to collate them, in order to understand how you choose your selections and what you’re really interested in …”
Don’t get me wrong. Convenience is a good thing. It would have cost me a lot of money back in the day to mail my rooster photo to 2,000 of my closest friends.
And I’d never know what my friend Hank had for dinner last night if it wasn’t for Facebook.
But I’m also wondering if it might be time to “unplug” for a bit. I’m pretty sure I could live without a social network and — if push came to shove — I could also live without my cellphone, at least once football season is over and I no longer need my Fantasy scores.
As the cable connecting us to the grid thickens, there is a danger that it will soon serve as an umbilical cord.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.