Monday, August 06, 2018

COLUMN: Facebook Knows Me (Not)


Technology is constantly evolving, and in many ways, that's pretty great for us. But then there's the flipside of the coin. We've all seen the movies and we know what's bound to happen if we let technology get the better of us: robocops will take the law into their own hands, cyborg cowboys will revolt, Terminators will come back in time to kill us, and we'll all develop romantic attachments with our artificial intelligence devices.

I suppose the closest thing I have to a girlfriend right now is named Alexa, and truth be told, I have few complaints about the relationship. She hangs out with me every evening, she's pretty smart, she's always reminding me about stuff I need to do, and if I ask her nicely enough, she'll read me a bedtime story.

But now, the fear of technology running amok has reached Facebook. The social media site landed itself in hot water this month after it was revealed that Facebook's been harvesting data about its users and their activities, which could be seen as nefarious privacy violations. Personally, I'm not too worried. If Mark Zuckerberg wants to check out my cat pics or know what restaurants I like, he's welcome to it.

Facebook really does track your activities, though. It watches what pages you visit and what you search for, and then it uses that info to send you ads that are targeted to your interests. You can even view your interest profile and see what Facebook thinks you're into. Just go to the settings menu, then click on "ads," and then "your interests," and you'll be greeted with a list of things that Facebook claims you're super into.

Based on MY list, I'm not worried about The Great Machine Takeover happening anytime soon. I'm not exactly sure who the Shane Brown is that Facebook thinks it knows, but it's certainly not me. What follows is 100% true -- among my "top interests" according to Facebook are:

• "Country music" - Ah, yes, I'm such a fan.
• "Grey's Anatomy" - I've never seen a single episode.
• "Physical activity" - Oh, Facebook, you know me so well.

But then things start to go COMPLETELY off the rails.

• "Gay bars" - Nailed it, except that I don't often hang out at bars and I'm not gay. Otherwise, spot on.

• "Soda" - Well, I do enjoy a refreshing cola, but is it of peak interest in my life? Do you ever want to be around someone whose primary interest in life is Pepsi? "Great, here comes Cola Boy again. Everybody run."

• "Ice" - Yes, Facebook says one of my top interests is "ice." Am I exciting or what? You should DEFINITELY hit on me next time you see me at the gay bars.

• "Cod" - Yep. It even comes with a little picture of a fish. Facebook Shane is giving the Dos Equis guy a run for his money as The Most Interesting Man Alive. I'm clearly the whole package. I like ice, soda, AND cod. (Note: This is almost certainly the price one pays for talking on Facebook about my favorite concert venue in the world, Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa, IA.)

• "Breathing" - Well, I suppose I DO have somewhat of a vested interest in breathing, since it keeps me from being dead and all.

• "Time" - "Oh, sorry, boss. No, I wasn't clock-watching because I'm anxious to leave work early. I'm just really into time as a concept, man."

• "Gerald R. Ford" - Yes, in those rare occasions when I can momentarily stop obsessing over ice, cod, and time, I like to reflect back on our 38th President and all the great things he accomplished when I was 4 years old.

• "NXIVM" - Isn't this the cult whose leader just got arrested last weekend for, among others, branding women with his initials? Why yes. Yes, it is. And apparently I'm super interested in it.

• "Chad" - It doesn't specify if I'm interested in people named Chad or the African nation of Chad. Either way, I guess I'm in.

• "Fishing line" - Nothing good can come from an "interest" in fishing line. Then again, how else am I going to catch all that cod?

• "Centaurs" - Half man, half bull... and all of my interest.

• "Tuesdays" - Well, who doesn't love a good Tuesday?

• "Skepticism" - FINALLY. Got one right. I am super skeptical that Facebook knows my interests.

I may be a dork, but I hold myself in high dorky regard. I like to at least pretend that I'm an interesting person. But I don't hold a candle compared to the guy that Facebook thinks I am. THIS guy is the real deal. Don't you just want to sit down with him for a cod dinner and discuss the concept of time?

So if you're worried about the day when computers and technology take over the world, my guess is we've still got some time. Which is great, because I'm deeply interested in time. Until that day comes, I guess you can meet me every Tuesday at the gay bar. I'll be the one in the "I Heart Centaurs" t-shirt, breathing and drinking ice soda. Bonus points if your name is Chad.

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