It’s just as we suspected: Google, Facebook, and Amazon really are trying to hijack our brains and take control of our lives.
By gathering information about our habits – where we shop, what we buy, where we vacation, the music we listen to, the books we read, and so much more – they’re building databases that allow them to nudge us toward specific products, restaurants, stores, etc. The collection process is called data mining or “reality mining.” And the best source of information about you isn’t necessarily your computer; it’s probably your smartphone. Data collected from a smartphone can track the user’s movements and build a detailed profile of that person’s everyday habits.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said recently that he believes most people “want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Google is gearing up to do exactly that.
Facebook may be way ahead of Google, though. FB already has connections to a legion of corporations and organizations, and clicking the little “Like” symbol on their websites delivers information to FB about your preferences and habits. More is coming: Recently Facebook paid a mere $15 million for a competitor, the social network called FriendFeed. Although FF is tiny (1 million users) compared to FB (500+ million), it already has something Facebook doesn’t: a built-in search feature for tracking all user activity. If the programmers plug this feature into the FB site, all your “friends” will be able to see everything you do on the internet. (Oh, look, my old pal Jack is visiting a porn site!) Something to look forward to, huh?
Most of the information-gathering is for commercial purposes, of course. Why would anybody bother with mass invasion of privacy unless there’s money in it? Many people are cooperating by putting FB apps on their smartphones, clicking “Like” on corporate sites, and tweeting relentlessly about their every movement and change of mood. Unless we’ve drilled down far enough to find the opt-out button, our FB friends can already see exactly where we are at all times. This information does not vanish into the ether and it’s not restricted to our friends. It goes into a database, and the data mining continues day and night, in real time.
Maybe we’ll reach the point where we never have to go shopping. Google, Facebook, and Amazon will know exactly what we want even before we do, and they’ll automatically charge it to our credit cards (of course they have the account numbers) and deliver it right to our doors.