Big Brother Lives!

You aren’t paranoid if they are only collecting all of your data and then interpreting your desires.

Less than 12 hours after I posted my blog on what my health coaching sessions did for me over the last year, I started to get some creepy signals that “they” are always listening.

Have you ever had that experience of talking with someone about a song, and then you feel like you hear the song shortly thereafter? Or see an ad about whatever thing you were discussing?  Could be a book, TV show, or anything.  It just shows up somewhere in your digital life right after you chat with someone else about it.

I don’t mean on the internet, chatting. We all know that when we search for products the ads and recommendations follow us around and we get emails. That’s big data for you.

I mean literally speaking to someone else with no computer involvement in the conversation. Maybe it is a coincidence. Or maybe they are actually listening.

We know from some of the recent Wikileaks dumps on the CIA hacking tools that the microphone in your cell phone can be activated anytime by a government agent. This, in theory, is only when you are under investigation by the CIA.

But do private companies have that power?

After posting here about my health coach from Cigna, who will now be named because I’m creeped out, I got this email within 12 hours:

This creepily-timed email brought to you from Big Health Companies and whatever shady data dealer they (inadvertently) contract

and this text less than 18 hours after my post:

This creepily-timed text brought to you from Big Health Companies and whatever shady data dealer they (inadvertently) contract

It has been months since my coaching sessions ended.  The email and phone I got those messages on are not associated with this website, but let’s see if we can connect the dots. If you think this is all a silly conspiracy, you can back out now.

Point 1: we know our phones can be activated by the CIA.

Big health companies like Cigna probably wouldn’t sanction the use of such techniques, but they probably contract out services from big data companies.  Such subsidiary companies may be aggregating data from many sources, who are pulling data from a further obfuscated group of sources.

Do we really think that all the metadata a massive company like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft has on you is tracable back to the source?  I doubt it.

Point 2: we have microphones in our house that are already listening.

I have an Amazon Echo.  It sits on the breakfast bar so I can ask for music, or what the time is, or how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon (it’s three).  It listens all the time.  This doesn’t creep me out normally, but perhaps it should.

How about Smart TVs or Smart Cable boxes?  They have microphones to listen to how you just gotta have more Big Bang Theory?  They can be hacked to listen even when you think they are turned off.  CIA tools, again.  But those tools are safe, government-controlled secrets that to which no one else has access.

Point 3: the CIA’s hacking tools have all been leaked.

The article I linked above has a headline designed to give readers some assurance that patches have been made already.  Do you really think Samsung has patched your four-year-old television?  I’m thinking no.

Point 4: normally, I would appreciate the extra service.

Let’s take this at face value.  I discussed in my prior post about missing my health coach sessions because I got good results when I had them.  The accountability meant that I was keeping myself on track, allowing the peer pressure of reporting to someone to drive my behaviors.

But my coach had to drop me because I had completed the program.  So I complained a little about it while showcasing my solution.  Through a series of data collection efforts, I suspect, my health insurance company is marketing the coaching service to me out of the blue.

It’s mostly about your convenience, though. C’mon.

It is.  Getting the right product to me, at the right price, at the time I need it is a modern business miracle.

But it also means that some combination of my private thoughts, home conversations, or mostly anonymous blog posts here end up in a data warehouse, mined for patterns, sold for a fee to a company that then markets the services they know I desire.

It would be genius if it wasn’t so devious.

Point 5: I can’t opt out, and neither can you.

There’s no getting rid of whatever series of data collection points brought me to this result.  I would have to throw out my phone, my computer, my Amazon Echo (I love you, Alexa), and disconnect from the modern digital life.  I’m not willing to do that, and neither are you.

So, we accept it.  That is the only choice you have.  Or you can go off the grid.  Have you every met someone who actually lives off the grid?  Completely?

I have.  His kids didn’t have Social Security numbers because they were conceived and born in a remote part of the Carolinas.  Dude was off. the. grid.  I’m not going there.

Instead, I’ll just ignore the fact that my thoughts, posts, messages, and conversations are being mined for data and trust that the algorithms are written in such a way that I don’t accidentally SWAT myself while doing chores.

If you think all of the above is a happy coincidence, you might want to leave a comment to tell me about it.

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