By Jim Poling Sr.
Have the feeling that someone is listening and watching?
I have that feeling more often these days. It’s more than a feeling. It has become a belief.
The other night the television went wonky, as televisions do in these times of mystifying electronics, spy satellites and other stuff beyond the reach of average human comprehension.
I called the TV service provider. A distant and unconcerned voice answered and said things were being checked but nothing appeared to be wrong.
“You might try changing your TV remote battery,” advised the voice. “It’s down to 30 per cent.”
I stared at the remote in my left hand, then the telephone in my right.
“How do you know that?” I asked. No answer.
I changed the battery, but the TV remained wonky. Occasional cutting in and out and flashing like there was a thunderstorm overhead, but that night there wasn’t a cloud for hundreds of miles around.
“Monitor it for the next 24 hours and if there’s still a problem, call us back.”
The next day the TV was normal and I assumed the voice had fiddled a switch or jiggled a button and the problem disappeared. However, I was left with that uncomfortable feeling that the voice on the phone also was a set of eyes inside my home.
How did it know the battery level in the TV remote sitting on my coffee table? And, why didn’t it say how it knew when I asked?
It’s creepy how little of our lives is private anymore.
For instance, I’d like to know where they get those questions you must answer to get into your bank account web site. Who was your first manager? Where did you go on your honeymoon? Who was your Grade 12 math teacher? On what day did you clip your toenails last month?
I don’t remember giving anyone those questions, or the answers.
I suppose I should be thankful they are questions I can guess at. If they asked me really difficult stuff like: Where did you leave your car keys? I would never get into my bank account or any password-protected site.
Governments and big businesses know more about every one of us than they will ever admit. They have it stored in brightly lit rooms that buzz, whir and crackle with digital sounds.
By one estimate, more than 98 per cent of the world’s information now is stored digitally, and the volume of that data has quadrupled since 2007. Much of it is data taken from home and work electronics that we use to send and receive emails, chat on social media and work on crowd-sourced projects.
Many of us were shocked reading George Orwell’s novel 1984. The book’s Big Brother with his telescreens in every home and office was small potatoes compared with today’s Big Data.
Stroll into a shopping mall store and covert lenses track you to record your shopping experience. Show an interest in Big Bill blue jeans and the Big Bill company knows about it.
Big Data has tens of thousands of unambiguous algorithms sniffing through our Web histories like beagles looking for puppy snacks. What they find is stored forever, unlike paper which loses what it has stored when you accidentally spill your coffee on it.
Big Data has other sneaky tools – like facial recognition, which you thought was really cool when you got it on your new smartphone. So did governments and big corporations, who now know more about you than your mother.
Those selfies that many folks are so fond of placing on social media apps? They likely are ending up somewhere you didn’t want them to be.
Surveillance of citizens minding their own business has been growing dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have installed mandatory ‘health code’ smartphone apps that determine whether they can leave home.
Some European governments are collecting Telcom data, employing drones and copying contact-tracing apps invented in Asia as part of COVID-19 surveillance.
Governments and corporate giants constantly tell us that privacy is important and surveillance is used only to prevent crime, improve efficiency, or whatever.
Yeah, maybe. But just to be safe I am going to start showering in my undershorts.