Off Kilter: Electronic Armageddon
Last updated 11/15/2019 at 1:44pm
I know this column will register with all of the readers. This week, I’d like to describe how our society is being transformed in how we communicate.
Let’s start with e-mail. In the distant past (circa 1972 or so), the Merit Computer Network was formed with a grant from the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA). (It is now called DARPA – adding Defense to the title and administered under the Department of Defense.) It linked together a dozen or so mainframe computers (long before the personal computer came to life in the early 80s). The idea was that by sharing this computing power, much larger problems could be solved. Today, there are networks that individual personal computer owners can “dial into” to “share” their own computing power – this is the same general idea. Within a few years, operators discovered that they could send messages to each other, hence the birth of e-mail.
Today, we take not only e-mail for granted, but electronic messaging as well. Let’s look one level deeper into these tools. You most likely are using one of three internet browsers. For Apple users, it is Safari. For PC users, it is most likely Internet Explorer (now Edge), or Google’s Chrome. I’m sure most of you are aware that these three companies, Apple, Microsoft, and Google, collect a staggering amount of information as you use their tools. Xfinity/Comcast are also one of the largest e-mail suppliers, as well as gmail (Google), all the wireless companies (ex. Verizon and many others). All these companies collect and analyze huge amounts of data for the purpose of making money.
Funny, if you know the history of Google and Facebook, in both cases the founders were simply trying to do something “neat.” Google’s two founders were simply trying to develop a tool for finding information on the burgeoning Internet. It was a research project at Stanford. Facebook’s Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard, was simply trying to get college students “on-line” to share information about them as individuals. It was only later in both cases when Google’s Venture Capital firm (in Silicon Valley) and Zuckerberg’s partner at Facebook suggested that the sites could be used to make money from advertising. Talk about the lightbulb going on over someone’s head!
Since then, in thousands of different ways, these companies have been selling just about everything about you to just about anyone who wants to buy it. It is no less than a disruptive re-invention of commerce.
So what are some examples? First, I have been getting more and more spam e-mails and text messages from companies wanting to sell me “soup-to-nuts.” Frankly I find it 100% intrusive and I’ve learned, especially when they call me on our home phone, to be somewhat “less than polite” to them. Here is a frightening stat from one web site: 50%-of-u-s-mobile-traffic-will-be-scam-calls-by-2019. The latest “technique” for actually getting you to take the call is when you answer, they say: “Can I talk to Bob?” I say, there is no “Bob” here. They then launch into their pitch. “Oh, well, I’ve been having a very difficult time getting Bob on the phone. But now that I have you, can I tell you about….?” At this point I literally scream into the phone: “Please take me off your phone list,” then hang up.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you visit just about any web site, you will see advertising. The choice of which ad is based upon your history of past browsing. They know so much about you. That is the scary part. Now, just about all marketing people are doing is trying to figure out, based upon your past on-line habits, what you are most likely to buy. These digital marketers then sell this information to whichever advertisers should be interested in you.
One rule of thumb: NEVER EVER OPEN an E-mail from a party you don’t know. First, by opening it up, they now know the e-mail address is valid. (So you will never stop receiving e-mails from them – and any and all their “sister” companies.) Second, it could well be malware – infecting your computer which could then be held for electronic ransom. Now, there are laws which can help you somewhat. The problem is these numbers are so vast that attempting to get someone in the government to do something about it is shoveling sand against the tide. In other words, don’t waste your time and energy. Simply hang up or use your delete key.