Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Alexa Spying

In today's evolving tech world, we're more connected to one another than ever before. Thanks to social media, we can share our lives, our likes, and our feelings at any time with basically anyone we've ever known -- including Britney Spears, who strangely follows me on Twitter. I'm sure she cares about my life a great deal.

We're often guilty of OVER-sharing. I can hop on Facebook right this second and learn what three of my friends ate for dinner tonight. I bet I can find over 100 photographs of snow posted in the last day. I can watch home movies of families I barely know. I can see the President discuss "hamberders," then witness a dozen of my friends supporting him and 200 of my friends hating his guts. People share EVERYTHING on social media.

But as we move more and more from a world where "sharing is caring" to a world of "I don't care, I'm gonna share," we also seem to be growing overly preoccupied with privacy. This seems to run contrary to the whole concept of social media.

Don't get me wrong -- security in the internet age is important. I had a credit card stolen online once, and it sucked. Thankfully it was caught early when some idiot used it at a Best Buy in Indiana and my bank called right away to report suspicious activity. Online security is paramount.

But what I DON'T get are people worried that the massive companies of the internet are spying on them for nefarious purposes. You hear the accusations all the time: Your Amazon Echo listens to your conversations. Google is tracking what sites you visit. Facebook wants to own all your content and the only way to stop them is to publically post "Dear Facebook, you may not own all of my content. Sincerely, me." Come on, people.

Look, I have no idea whether or not internet giants are spying on us. I also don't care. It would take a massive boost of self-importance for me to believe that any billion-dollar company cares the slightest about me. I suppose we're entering a grey area that could pave the way to a Big Brotherish dystopian future, but for now, if Mark Zuckerberg wants some pictures of my cats, he's welcome to them. If Jeff Bezos wants to eavesdrop on my friends and I making fun of "Riverdale," he can tune right in. If I wanted my content private, I wouldn't have posted it to social media in the first place.

And yes, Google DOES track what websites you visit. They use it to deliver relevant offers to your screen. It's called targeted advertising. I go to a lot of music sites, so I get a lot of music-related ads. I'm cool with that. If I have to be subjected to constant promotions, I'd rather it be something I care about and not "Hey, Shane, stop leaks before they happen! Use Tampax!" 

I'm generally okay with a moderate amount of corporate Big Brother snooping on me. But sometimes it CAN get annoying.

My cable box, for instance, allows me to watch videos on Youtube. The other night, I got suckered into checking out some clip promising "Undeniable Proof That UFO's Exist!" Spoiler: It didn't. In fact, it put me right to sleep. But whilst I slumbered, Youtube kept on playing hours and hours of the most nutbag videos imaginable. And now every time I turn on Youtube, it recommends videos to me like, "HILLARY CLINTON CONTROLS THE REPTILIAN LIZARD ILLUMINATI!" Youtube now thinks I'm a basement-dwelling conspiracy theory lunatic. Awesome.

But the most disconcerting example of technology gone amok may have happened to me the other morning. I have to share this story, as embarassing as it is. I was watching a show on Netflix that featured a super cute and funny actress who I thought I recognized from somewhere, so I decided to pause the show and Google her to see what other shows she'd been on.

And yes, I'm fully aware that it's borderline skeevy to do an internet search for an actress young enough to be my daughter, but I'm a pop culture nerd, so don't judge me. And you don't HAVE to judge me, because my Amazon Echo took care of that for you. Keep in mind I'm by myself, the show is paused, there's dead silence in the house except for me typing on this very laptop, when out of NOWHERE, Alexa's voice comes booming out of my Amazon Echo: "THE WORD 'UNJUST' REFERS TO AN ACT THAT IS CONSIDERED MORALLY OR ETHICALLY WRONG." Like possibly researching an actress half my age. I was waiting for Alexa to start ringing a bell and yelling "SHAME!" like Game of Thrones.

I think it was just a random error. I hope it was just a random error. Or maybe somewhere Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are deeply concerned about the alien-obsessed pervert in Illinois who checks the iTunes music charts five times a day. Who's to say? All I know is that for now, I'm okay being observed by corporate America. After all, if my bank hadn't been monitoring my account Big Brother-style, that jerkwad who stole my credit card could be cleaning out Best Buys across Indiana on my dime as we speak.

Frankly, there are better things to worry about -- like this week's episode of "Riverdale." DON'T JUDGE ME, ALEXA.

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