Magazine | April 16, 2018, Issue

You Accept This

((Reuters photo: Robert Galbraith))

Facebook is under fire for being dumb enough to admit they collect massive amounts of data about you. We expect better from our puppet masters, no? Allow us the illusion of irrelevance in the larger scheme, if you’d be so kind.

Everyone knew Facebook kept a record of everything you did, said, ate, and thought, but then some journalists downloaded their FB archives and discovered the phone app had logged their phone calls.

“What? Who said they could track when I called my grandmother? Okay, I haven’t called my grandmother. I’ve been meaning to. But when I do it’s my business! Unless I post on FB that I had an awesome talk with her. #grannysrule #reachout”

Everyone who is shocked about what Facebook knows seems to forget he gave them permission to do everything. Remember that “Terms and Conditions” thing you clicked? Did you read it? Here’s what these things say.

1) By looking at these words, the Real User Being Examined (hereafter “RUBE”) agrees that GreaterOmniData (hereafter “GOD”) shall perform DNA harvesting when RUBE brings the device in for service. DNA taken from the device shall be examined for genetic defects to enable targeted emails from our marketing partners, and may be combined with other DNA to create human-wolf hybrids to guard our CEO’s house.

2) Location services shall be used to build a daily record of RUBE’s movements, and these movements shall be the property of GOD, because the NSA knows we have it and frankly there’s no point wasting time with subpoenas. In fact the data will be uploaded to the NSA on an hourly basis just to save time.

3) All phone calls will be transcribed and digitally uploaded to a data crypt on the moon, hardened against cosmic-ray degradation for 100,000 years.

4) RUBE agrees that GOD shall enable the microphone when it detects RUBE has entered a bathroom, for the purpose of building a massive database of embarrassing sounds the device will emit when RUBE attempts to remove the app.

5) All collection of data not expressly mentioned in this EULA shall be permitted if RUBE enables device on a day that contains the letter “y.”

No one reads it. The agreement sets out a degree of scrutiny that makes Winston Smith look like Robinson Crusoe, and people are annoyed that they actually have to scroll all the way through a yard of words to give up their privacy. Why can’t the app just turn on the camera and see me nodding?

At the bottom of the legalese: Start sharing life and having fun now?

No, I want to die alone unmourned / Yes, I want to don the ersatz flesh of digital life and join the parade of head-bent drones.

So FB knows everything you like and say and whom you know, just as Google knows Grandpa googled “Jane Russell Outlaw poster” once and Grandma googled “Why don’t they call?” and Yahoo knows the most embarrassing thing about you, namely that you use Yahoo.

You accept this.

You accept that Amazon knows you searched for freeze-dried food and has filed you away as someone who might want to buy Boiling Your Urine: A Guide to Surviving the FEMA Camps. You accept that YouTube knows you watch UFO videos, so it suggests videos that insist NASA is hiding pictures of a structure on Mars that looks like the face of Bert Lahr. Was The Wizard of Oz really about alien intervention in the FDR administration? The evidence is mounting up.

All of this is incomplete. None of it means they know you, because we are more than the sum of our digital interactions.

Let’s say I were an avid FB user, hitting my timeline every 15 minutes to see if someone had posted a link to a video called “Funny Turtles Lip-Sync Garrison Keillor Monologues.” Let’s say I’d enabled every single eavesdropping function on my phone. What would it have figured out?

Well. It heard me listen to conservative talk radio, and NPR. The camera saw a copy of National Review on the kitchen table, and a newspaper with a center-left editorial page. Hmm: This guy looks malleable. The microphone also heard me mention some odd birds that looked like “vague gnus” and thought I said “fake news,” so the app ramped up the Trump memes, but then it overheard me say “I’m withered” and thought I’d said “I’m with her,” which meant I was Hillary bait.

The app noticed I went to a hardware store: possible Republican. I went to a sporting-goods store that sold guns: Oh, def GOP • hold on, he’s ordering soy milk from his phone. He’s standing in the gun department ordering soy milk.

Smoke starts to billow from the mainframe! This doesn’t fit the parameters! Emergency emergency deploy persuasive Kasich memes . . .

Error error no such file exists.

In short, there’s nothing Facebook could have displayed that would have changed what I thought. No one who was hard-core Hillary logged on to Facebook, noted that someone she knew in high school 32 years ago had shared a picture of Trump on a Pegasus with an M-16 in each hand, flying past Mt. Rushmore, and thought, “Maybe I’ve been wrong. Tell me more.”

If you want to be free of the digital panopticon, you can start by deleting Facebook. And please: If you’re reading this online, hit “like” and share it on Facebook, after which no one who reads it will delete Facebook. Not even if I say it in Russian.

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