The Internet is spying on me.
Not the Edward Snowden kind of spying, where the NSA hides a listening device in my toaster. (Which my daughter accidentally ate in her cinnamon raisin bagel.)
I mean, the Internet keeps close track of the things I do. For one thing, if I go shoe shopping online, all my friends will make fun of me.
Also, an ad for the shoes will follow me to every other website I visit. If there's a space for an ad, those stupid shoes will be in it.
That's because the original shoe website puts a small piece of code called a "beacon" onto my browser. This beacon follows me (and everyone else) around and shows the same shoes over and over until you punch your laptop and wear old Kleenex boxes on your feet in protest.
But this is not a major problem. It's been going on for years, so don't hurt yourself jamming on your tinfoil hat.
It's just the software algorithms that make the Internet work.
For example, Google uses algorithms so its search engine can better predict what we might be searching for. The more you search for things, the better they get at finding what you want.
If you Google Nazareth, the 1970s band that sang "Love Hurts," you'll get a mixed bag of results about the band, the city in Pennsylvania, and Jesus' hometown. But if you only click on the band's search results, play their videos on YouTube, participate in Nazareth fan forum discussions, and visit as many websites as possible about the band, your family will think you've lost your mind.
Also, Google will figure out that you're not interested in the cities, so future results will be more band-specific.
You can even affect what Google fills in the search box as you start typing. Let's say you start typing the phrase "How do I." Right now, Google will show you several frequently-typed phrases like, "how do I get a home," "how do I get a passport," and "how do I love thee."
But if you and several of your friends frequently search for, "how do I hide a dead body" over a long period of time, that phrase will eventually begin to show up more and more, displacing one of the other phrases.
So, if a few hundred people were to repeatedly ask Google whether a certain presidential candidate is a Cheeto-faced bankruptcy factory, the search engine would auto-fill that phrase anytime someone typed in his name.
Who benefits by knowing all this stuff about us? Who's keeping track of all this?
It's not the government. I'm not that worried about what the government will do with my search interests.
No, I'm worried about marketers. And I say that as a professional marketer. If you want to be afraid of Big Brother and a dystopian Orwellian future, be afraid of the people who sell you stuff. Disney's Wall-E should give you a pretty good idea of where we're headed.
Google's search algorithms are written so we'll have a positive experience, and come back to them over and over. And they'll encourage us to use their other products, like YouTube and Google Drive. The more we use them, the more they learn about us. And they'll begin to show ads geared specifically toward the things we want, like, and need.
Imagine if your TV only showed commercials of the things you need right now, as if they peeked inside your refrigerator and cupboards. You would see ads for your favorite mayonnaise, your favorite beer, and those little cheese balls you swore you would stretch over a week, but finished in one sitting.
That's who's driving the Internet. It's not the government. According to most of the people I went to high school with, the government can't even secure a single private email server, so what makes you think they can successfully monitor all of us?
That's because marketers can't touch anything without ruining it. We're the black mold of the Internet. Once someone creates something new and clean and pure, marketers are your perpetually dirty cousin who's always working on cars or massaging pigs.
"Hey, let me see that," they say, grabbing it out of your hands. "That looks pretty cool." They pass it back and forth between their grimy hands, hold it up to their ear and shake it. They even bite down on it to see how solid it is. When you get it back, you don't even want it anymore.
But don't think quitting Facebook or never using Google again will stop them, you're too late. They already know a lot about you, so you might as well face it, embrace it, and benefit from it.
Besides, Amazon is offering free shipping if you spend over $25 and buy my books.
You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.