Sorry, Edward Snowden, I have more important things to worry about than how closely “big brother” is watching me.
If the government wants to read my emails, go ahead. Give me an address and I’ll even blind-copy everything I send. Phone calls? Sure. I’ll even give your guy five minutes to talk with my mother during our two-hour on long-distance. I can take a bathroom break. Internet site snooping? I hate to tell you, Big Brother, but somebody beat you to it.
At least the government is guarding whatever data they are keeping on people. For one thing, it doesn’t flood my inbox with “spam,” clutter my Facebook page with ads, and tie up my line with phone calls offering me creative ways to spend money. What’s more, those crafty capitalists don’t care that we know how it happens.
It didn’t take me long to realize that those “club cards” handed out by retailers are used to track your spending habits. Yes, you get some nice discounts. But with information on buying habits, stores can send you coupons for deals on merchandise they know you’re buying. I figured this out after I bought a year’s supply of a certain brand of vitamins, and the store sent me a coupon for half-off another year’s supply. I guess you can never have too many vitamins.
Still, I eagerly sign up. “Do you have our card?” the cashier will ask. “Lady, I’ve got everybody’s card. Let me hold up the line for two minutes while I dig through my wallet looking for yours.”
Actually, I’ve been able to streamline the process by acquiring an extra keychain just to hold club cards. This works fine until I forget to put it in my pocket before leaving home. It hardly matters though if you forget. The cashier will happily look you up in their system with only your phone number. So, you sound off your number while everybody else around writes it down. When they can go back to work, they’ll call you to enroll you for their card.
“OK, that’s the Deason household?” the cashier will reply after punching in your phone number. “Yes, we have you here. How did that laxative you bought last week work for you?”
“Oh, that wasn’t for me. Someone was visiting from, uh… Idaho. Maybe.”
And don’t you just love it when you’re about fifth in line, and the person in front decides that, yes, he will fill out that two-page form and sign up for their card right now?
The real dangers lurk online. I’ve threatened to cancel my Facebook page many times, and someday it might just happen. It consumes too much of my time. Too many people use it to promote their political viewpoints. Whether I agree or disagree, I don’t care. I’m on Facebook to see pictures of grandchildren, pets and what friends are having for lunch. And lately, the advertisements have become annoying.
I’m convinced that Facebook and the various search engines are tracking what websites you visit, and the topics for which you search. Then, they use the data to bombard you with ads. A few weeks ago, I remembered a story about “the millionaires’ club,” which was the trio of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison who often traveled together in the early 20th century. I couldn’t recall the story’s particulars, so I searched for “Firestone.” The moguls of the Internet interpreted this as meaning I was in ready to buy automobile tires, and do they have some deals for me.
On Facebook, the list of advertisements that pops up on the right has been urging me to subscribe to a newspaper in a small city in a state I’ve never visited. I finally figured out why. There was a flood near that town several weeks ago, and I went to its local online publication to read more about it. How do I tell them I’m done with that now?
It’s enough to make you want to go completely off the grid, assuming “Big Brother” would allow it. Maybe I’ll to do a web search to see how that’s done.
Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears in the Bulletin on Fridays. Contact him by email at email@example.com.