“Shar, is that the same Alice from ‘Alice’s Restaurant’?”
“What are you talking about?”
“That woman on TV. They said she’s opening a new restaurant in Berkeley, and I’m wondering if she’s the same Alice as the one in Arlo Guthrie’s movie. You know, ‘Alice’s Restaurant.’ ”
“No. You’re thinking of Alice Brock. I think she was a friend of Arlo Guthrie, and she and her husband lived in an old church. Remember? He went to see her for Thanksgiving dinner? And ended up getting arrested by the local sheriff? This Alice is Alice Waters. I think she’s a food writer and restaurant owner. Alice Brock is more of an artist. The only thing they have in common is they’re both real people, and we’re all about the same age.”
Naturally, she was right, but it got my curiosity up. The next thing I knew I was on the phone Googling “Arlo Guthrie,” “Alice’s Restaurant the movie,” and several related topics. I was sort of wondering if the song would be available as a vinyl record. As it turns out, you can find used copies pretty easily and for a reasonable price on ebay. That was the easy part.
A day later finds me on Facebook, and an advertisement pops up. Guess what? Amazon is wondering if I might be interested in a DVD of the movie “Alice’s Restaurant,” or a CD of music from the movie. Maybe I’d be interested in a cookbook of the same name? Not to mention, they also have the soundtrack available on a used vinyl record.
And over the next few days I noticed more ads for related products. Nobody should be surprised that it got me to wondering. How do they know? How much do they know? And, aside from being genuinely creepy, is it doing me any real harm?
Harm? Only if you consider the contents of your mind important. If access to our thoughts is valuable, we’re paying a heavy price.
We’ve given up too much privacy for the convenience of using internet services that are provided virtually without charge. Information about what you have googled, what you have read, what you have clicked on, and even what you have “liked” on Facebook, is gathered, hoarded even, by people who want to use that information for their own purposes.
It’s true you’re not altogether powerless. You can make some adjustments to your phone, computer, or other device that will cut down on the targeted advertising. A short sampling:
- Google does use interest based advertising, but if you go to “Google Settings,” it’s easy to set “Opt out of interest based ads.”
- For Amazon, go to “Your Account,” “App Preferences,” and “Advertising Preferences.” Switch off “Personalize ads from Amazon.” You will still see ads from Amazon, but they won’t be based on previous purchases or your web surfing.
- For Facebook, go to “Settings,” “Ads,” and select “Can you see on-line interest based ads from Facebook?” Check it off.
If you’re like me, all the time you’re switching these permissions off, you realize that none of this keeps them from tracking your on-line activity. That ship sailed the day you checked off on the app’s privacy notice the first time you used Google, Facebook, or Amazon. They keep gathering the information, and they keep showing you advertisements; they just don’t bother to tailor the ads to your interests. And your choices are limited by the fact that you do want to keep using these apps. Their choices, however, are limited only by the number of companies who will pay them for that information.
I’d advise you to read those privacy statements, but we all know that’s not going to happen. They are long, dense reading. Practically unfathomable. The only time I can remember actually reading that privacy information was the last time Amazon wanted to update their app on my phone. Among the list of “new permissions” they wanted was full access to my contacts list. Why do they need my entire contacts list? I refused to check off on that one, but they kept asking, day after day, for a full week. I’m not sure if they gave up, or I accidentally gave permission later, but I can tell you that the app still worked, and they still took my orders for merchandise. I thought we were finally at peace.
Then, as if I needed more evidence that they might still be selling my information to outside retailers, this advertisement for a t-shirt showed up on my Facebook feed yesterday.
Is there a lesson here? Yes, and I’m pretty sure you know what it is. We Lost.