See Your Data, See Your Thoughts

It doesn’t sound very foreign to our generation to describe the following, but may have seemed as a repulsive invasion of privacy to prior generations.

You finish your work for the weekend, open Safari on your iPhone, and search for film reviews before heading to the movies with friends. You click on a link to a review website, where you find not only a movie review, but also an ad for a piece of clothing that seems eerily similar to the one you were recently discussing with friends.

In the eyes of the uninitiated or earlier generations, this would spark paranoia over the presence of an Owellian big-brother entity that was listening in on everyday conversations. While our generation is familiar with the targeted advertising algorithms that use our data to create these oddly specific ads, the reality of the situation lends itself to both this reasoning and the aforementioned fears of listening phones or Amazon Alexas.

On the data side of this explanation, most have already reconciled the eerie truth in favor of our own consumer choices – the terms and conditions, if you will. The convenient highway of infinite information that is Google sets a snare trap for the tech giant to know every website most people have ever visited. Our social media apps and phones function in a similar way, getting to know us better than ourselves based on our data’s indication of our interests, friends, jobs, and more until our every move, purchase, and work commute can be predicted henceforth.

Meanwhile, when researching this topic amongst articles, it appears as if the concept of associating our devices and internet use with data collection is flagged as conspiracy rhetoric. We are surrounded with anecdotes about how Amazon Alexa accidentally sending a family’s unknowingly recorded conversations to their contact book, about how Target knows when your pregnant, and about how most tech CEOs cover their laptop camera. Nonetheless, a quick google search of these topics will show that a media company owned by Jeff Bezos would like to assure you that there is nothing to see here.  

While Big Data is a well known part of our world and an accepted compromise for the unprecedented connection that we enjoy, I can’t help but wonder if our generation is simply desensitized to a level of surveillance that would have scared our ancestors. Or would they have not noticed or cared much, just as we seem to do as we scroll and search anyway? Is our world of phones, laptops, Alexas, and accurate data ethical and incomparable to an 80s dystopian film (with cameras in every corner of every room) solely because we enjoy the connectivity that comes with it?

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