In this information age we’ve been warned of what might happen with all the little personal tidbits we give Facebook and Google by allowing them access to what we discuss with our friends. Apparently they know our buying habits, including when and where we like to purchase everything from groceries to cars, and that knowledge is like gold dust to your average corporation.
Well, I’ve been on Gmail and Facebook for six or seven years now, so they should know me inside out. Their mystical algorithms must have seeped inside my cerebral cortex like smoke, silently extracting every one of my desires, no matter how mundane. Here in 2014 they ought to be sending me emails about things I didn’t even know I wanted until Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin decided to let me know in ads targeted with such ninja-like stealth that I found myself clicking my way to Amazon Prime like an epileptic woodpecker.
You might not be entirely surprised to learn that this has yet to happen. Here are some of the ads on the side of my Facebook page on Saturday evening:
Not sure what the smile one’s about. I’m pretty happy with my teeth (top tip from my dentist: floss every day) and can’t recall a time when I’ve expressed any kind of an interest in getting them whitened. I might have looked up Hungry House or something like it a few years ago, but never took that vague interest any further. And a smart watch? Maybe they’ve seen me occasionally mention Apple stuff, put two and two together and made fourteen. Yes, I’m somewhat interested in getting whatever wearable technology Apple might come up with in future, but unfortunately I’m pretty sure they don’t advertise on Facebook’s small space section, so my Apple devotion will never lead to more accurate FB advertising messages.
One time I went part of the way to ordering a shirt on Matches or Coggles, but for reasons I can’t recall I backed out before final purchase. I was then stalked by the shirt all over the internet, as if the shopkeeper had not been convinced by my final decision and decided to chase me down the street, follow me home and haunt me for several weeks on the off-chance I might change my mind. I don’t want the fucking shirt. All attempts to remind me of its existence irritate me. They make me dislike the company that won’t take no for an answer, and this is what a decade of building up knowledge about my innermost desires has resulted in?
Since yesterday my attempts to play Wordscraper (a Scrabble-like game on Facebook) have been interrupted by an infuriatingly intrusive ad for some Spider-man cartoon on the Disney XD channel. First it shoots a web across the entire screen, then Spider-man swings across the web, then a huge ad complete with shitty cartoons settles above the game board until I click it off. Now, I’m not even vaguely interested in this thing. I have a Spider-man game app on my phone that my son plays, but I bought it several years ago and that was that, and I haven’t even bothered with the new movie. So they seem to have got it wrong. Very wrong. And I repeat: this is with the inside scoop all that juicy personal info has given them, along the super-genius brains that will use that info to get us to buy things we didn’t even know we wanted.
Yes, I’m aware that the stuff we willingly give to Google, Facebook et al might result in us being hauled before a Magistrus of the third sector of the North Eastern Quadrant of the Chinese Empire for thought crimes at some point in the 2030s, but y’know, if they want to know I don’t like racism but do like Arsenal then so be it.
I just wonder if a) these people are much stupider than we give them credit for, or b) knowing what I like on a day-to-day basis doesn’t actually help corporations that much at all, at least not in a way that will allow them to divert me from whatever course I was going to take anyway.