Okay, I’ll admit it – social media has me baffled. Try as I might to understand its incredible popularity and all the benefits it supposedly brings, I still don’t quite get why it’s so popular. Please don’t tell me it’s an age thing because my kids have trouble explaining it to me as well. All I know is that lots of people use it regularly, others simply cannot survive without some regular interaction, and millions appear to be totally addicted to it.
I really don’t understand those people who have to advertise their every meal, every meeting, every TV show, and even their every movement (yes, in some extreme cases, their ‘every’ movement). Why in their right mind do people need to share personal information with the world at large? Are they proud of what they are doing, need assurance from others that they are normal, are egotistical or insecure, or really do simply want to keep in touch with friends and family? (That last one is the only reason I joined Facebook.)
I have researched the subject and read psychologist reports on why and how people have integrated social media into their very existence, but there is no clear defining theory that explains why we continue to do it despite warnings on the grave dangers that online exposure presents to our personal security and, sometimes, our loved ones.
You are no doubt aware that prospective employers troll social websites to garner information about job applicants to determine if they are socially suitable as employees, and that political groups target people who express views that are similar to those that they are trying to promote.
Online retailers scan your shopping habits to offer product recommendations on your next visit. Inexplicably, their competitors somehow get in on the act and inundate you with counter offers and targeted advertising, usually via your favourite social channel.
And of course, we are all aware of national security efforts to catch suspected terrorists by monitoring them and their online communications very closely. Even policing has adapted by developing applications that help track down criminals that are stupid enough to leave hints and behavior patterns on their social profiles.
In the months to come you will hear about services being offered to businesses that will give them a complete social profile of any individual that has ever used the internet. These cloud-based services will, with the help of machine learning, be able to determine your moods (or sentiment) and your personality simply by analysing what you write, where you write it, how you write it and when you write it.
And don’t think for a moment that your voice communications, images and videos uploaded to YouTube will escape the same detailed analysis. It’s probably too late to do anything about it. Even if you deactivate your social network accounts, even delete them, the trail you have left behind will be there for a long time.
You had better take a close look at all those connected devices in your home and on your person that have been, sometimes unknowingly to you, collecting and sending information out. Your smart TV knows your viewing preferences, even knows who is watching by the pattern of remote control usage, e.g. channel hopping. Your smartphone apps with their innocuous terms and conditions (the ones you have never bothered to read) are accessing your contacts, your calls, your call history your photos, your location, even the apps you are using. If you sign in to Google and use any Google application, including Maps, you can test my theory by checking your history that will reveal everywhere you have been whilst the app was active.
I am personally flabbergasted by people (apparently yuppies, early adopters or show-offs) rushing to buy the Amazon Echo – that voice activated tube thing that is supposed to do everything but wipe your bottom. [Yuppies? – Ed.]
Who in their right mind would want to put a transmitting microphone in their home capturing all of their conversations, not knowing who could be listening – not just now but in the future? How long will it be before national security and law enforcement organizations demand access to these miraculous devices?
I’d like to suggest where you can put your Echo to make it soundproof and do the one thing it doesn’t do already but, in the interest of public health and safety, I will exercise some self-control. But I have warned you.