The video at the bottom of this post is of my cousin J. Robert Geiman being interviewed. He is CEO of a company named Every Screen Media, which uses very sophisticated software to help target advertising for its clients.

I have noticed that the ads which pop up on the margins of many Internet pages I visit are remarkably well suited to my interests. It is clear that marketers are well aware of who I am, and what I have recently purchased.

For example, I recently bought a Murphy Bed for one of the guest rooms in the rectory. And, sure enough I am now getting lots of advertisements for bedding, bedroom furniture, etc. I also bought a desk chair, and, sure enough, lots of ads now show up on the margins of webpages and at the bottom of YouTube videos for other office furnishings and office supplies.

My cousin’s grasp of the marketing tools involved is quite impressive and frankly I only half understand what he is talking about since the language is very technical.

But the main point is clear, Who I am, what my interests are, what I have recently purchased, and where my interests lie is increasingly data that is out there, knowable and easily shared by those who care to know.

At one level this is alarming, at another level it is very helpful.

The alarming part of it is how “un-private” the Internet really is. I am constantly warning friends and family that what we do on the Internet is NOT private. No matter how private it may seem or feel, every click of our mouse is carefully noted and tracked.

When on the Internet, remember that you are in public and act that way. Be very careful what you say, and how you say it, because when you press send, it’s out there forever.

At the moral level I have often had to counsel people who struggle with Internet pornography. Part of the “appeal” of the behavior is that access to the material is so easy and also (apparently) so private. It’s not like the past where one had to walk into an adult book store or bring a dirty magazine to a counter and buy it, face to face with some cashier.

But the privacy of the Internet is an illusion. Even for those who operate under “aliases” it is not hard for law enforcement officials and others to connect the dots of who is really who through ISP numbers, credit card info etc.

When I, this parish, or the Archdiocese seek to hire anyone or appoint them to some significant task, right at the top of the list, is to “Google” the person’s name. The Internet provides lots of valuable information about people.

Bottom line: Internet privacy is an illusion. You are out in public. Accept that fact and act that way.

As alarming as all this may seem, I personally find it helpful. Remembering that I am in public helps me behave. With notoriety comes a deeper sense of accountability.

It should probably be enough for all of us simply to remember that God is watching, but sadly it is not for most of us. That is especially true in this age where many have reinvented God as the great affirmer and the one who “understands” even our worst sins. While this may be true about God to some extent, yet still the Scripture reminds us that we will be accountable to God for every idle word we utter (cf Matt 12:36). But in the end, it is not usually enough for most people that God is watching. There must be some sense that others are watching, and that there might be consequences for that right here and now.

So, at some level I must say, though alarming, the fact that I am in public, and in a very transparent setting is ultimately of help to me. Somehow we all DO depend on one another to live more uprightly.

I will also say, companies like my Cousin’s also provide a service to me. Frankly I like the fact that Ads are increasingly targeted to my specific interests. When watching broadcast or cable TV (as opposed to a narrowcasted Internet environment) I find the ads there tedious and even embarrassing, as a steady parade of E.D., feminine hygiene, endless pharmaceutical commercials scroll by. But targeted ads, may and do, provide very helpful information based on my needs and actual interests.

Just a brief reflection on these matters. I am interested in your thoughts. I also realize that these issues related to privacy vs. convenience, and intrusiveness vs. accountability require balance. Somewhere a line can be crossed. But for the record, I think that while privacy has an obvious and necessary place, too much privacy may not be good for us, given how forgetful we are that God is always watching.

Here’s my cousin Bob Geiman -


AWE_EveryScreen Media_100312 by advertisingweek

17 Responses

  1. Annette Strachan says:

    Would the watchers like to help the world of have- nots, and try following St. Francis of Assisi for example.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    It’s rather Orwellian.

    • Bender says:

      Big Brother is watching you.

      I remember reading a while back about one of these programs where the schools give free laptops to students. Apparently, some of the school administrators were using the built-in cameras to spy on the students, who often kept the laptops in their bedrooms.

      Then there is the possibility of other tech-savvy bad guys hacking into your wi-fi to spy on you via the laptop webcam. That puts a whole ‘nother light on the stereotype of bloggers rolling out of bed and going to work on their computers in nothing but their underwear.

      Computer privacy, especially on the Internet, is largely an illusion. Even with taking precautions, like covering up the webcam, configuring your IE settings to block certain cookies, add-ons, and websites, not clicking on web-ads, which are an invitation to a malware infestation, disconnecting the Internet connection when you are away, clearing your cache often, still there is the substantial possibility of someone being able to burglarize your computer.

      And, of course, in all our activities, including our non-computer activities, there is always Someone watching. It is an illusion that when we engage in all those illicit sexual activities “in the privacy of our bedroom,” that we can push God out of the room. God is still there, watching. Not because He wants to watch — He’s not a voyeur — but because God Is. He may seem to be a trillion miles away, but in reality, from His perspective, He is always right next to us. And He really does not enjoy or want to watch too many of the things we do, He does not want to watch that anymore than our grandmother would want to watch many of the things we do. And if you would not do that something in front of her, why would you do it in front of Him?

      What we need are reminders. Religious artwork can provide those reminders to some extent. If we have a visual image of our Blessed Mother or Jesus on a crucifix nearby, or a prayer card taped to the computer monitor, maybe we might be too embarassed to do those bad things in front of them.

  3. TaylorKH says:

    I agree with you. We subject ourselves to the whole world when we publish openly on the Internet, and we need to be careful. Sometimes, one needs to dwell on the Lord’s Agony when contemplating not writing something which is true and helpful and necessary but which will certainly result in a negative response. If one is hurt because of writing something for the sake of the love of Christ, then his reward will be great in Heaven. We can trust God.

  4. Holly Williams says:

    This is so true. I never really thought much about this before but it is true that the internet is pretty public regardless of whether or not it seems private. I have been deceived by the illusion of privacy on the internet in the past and ended up sinning. I still sin every single day but I am trying very hard not to sin as much as I used to do.

    Knowing that God sees our every move and hears our every word is humbling to me. Knowing also that the internet is nowhere near as private as it may seem also humbles me.

    This is definitely a good reminder that we must avoid sin at all times regardless of whether we are in public or in private or online.

  5. dennis neylon says:

    I often wonder what those who are so concerned about privacy are trying to hide.

  6. R in Indiana says:

    I have just been learning about these capabilities as part of my job, and I was wondering what you would make of this trend. I work with data, and I’m excited about the possibilities of targeting people with appropriate ads. However, on a personal level, I am not that comfortable with someone following my internet movements. I suppose I will be convicted of being Catholic reading your blog and others, and they won’t know what to do with me.

  7. Peter Wolczuk says:

    As Annette Strachan pointed out, how does the clever marketing help people who buy only what they need? When the marginal ads suit one’s most common interest, how much does this narrow aspect squeeze out the variety that adresses a broad range of human aspects that exists within each of us.
    A person who does a large scale of a certain type of purchasing for a big organization may find these selective ads interesting but, this type of occupation isn’t all that common. And what if someone like Monsignor Pope needs to make only a few purchases and, upon doing so, finds their browsing saturated with more of the same? Are they at risk of being overwhelmed with temptation to overspend the budget by replacing functional, but “old fashioned”, office furniture and appliances – therefore being pushed toward a squandering of resources on the latest style of egotism and that which serves mammon? Likely in some but, far from all cases. Enough, apparently, to justify the effort.
    A single male in fairly good health may not be thrilled with such things as, “E.D., feminine hygiene, endless pharmaceutical commercials” but, an ad about an interest that I hadn’t expressed may show a lot of stuff that’s attractive to those who have a stronger interest than myself.
    Marketing is quite attractive and, at times, intrusive, displaying things that I will probably never need but, which is made to appear indispensible. Like driving for a living and going to a fast food outfit or convenience store that’s part of a large chain in order to get a snack. In the last few months most of them seemed to start pushing me to buy more. Sort of, “you’ve got a coffee and chocolate chip muffin, so why not try a chocolate bar that’s on sale” or driving up to a window and feeling assaulted by the clerk’s rants about this or that new product before I even get a chance to order. I focus on resisting to vent on the clerks, because they were probably told to do this, and mostly go to owner/operator mom/pop type businesses now.
    It feels dangerous, to me, to go to large chains for my snacks as they wheedle aggressiviely for what’s called “disposable income” I do not have disposable income. It all belongs to me and is not something that I am obliged to throw away so that others can grab it.
    The money that I put in a collection plate for a church or a Christian charity is not from a disposable source, it’s a fulfillment of my faith.
    At any rate, all this manipulative marketing seems to be part of a message that appears to be growing. A message that there’s no serious emotional pain.
    The reference to Matthew 12:36; and TaylorKH’s response; also reminds me of Luke 12:2-5 which seems to go a bit further on the same topic. First there’s what appears to be a warning that the things we’ve whispered will be shouted abroad and how much many of us fear that and the worldly consequences. Then, we are told that we should more greatly fear God, Who has authourity to throw us into hell.
    So, why such a great fear of revealing our true thoughts and our true feelings? Is the current thought gestapo of political correctness hunting down dissent through the internet? School children who are told what to endorse (and believe) instead of being guided into a healthy decision like in the labour dispute recently in the city where I live. An elementary school teacher who sent in a petition which the teacher’s students had signed. A petition that demanded that the employer stop “bullying” teachers. The teacher ended up apologizing for this “mistake” but, I wonder if it was a mistake or a test case on how emotionally terrorized the students had become and how complacent society was.
    Also reminds me of a campaign when in the army. A big push was on to raise donations fro a blanket charity so that the battalion looked good. I didn’t contribute and all non contributors in our rifle company were called into an office (one at a time) where it was suggested that we get with the program. I replied that I only donated to Christian charity but, the sugar coated veiled threats continued for some time. Upon looking back I wonder if this was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Article Fifteen that is meant, in part, to protect our religious freedom.
    I belong to several support groups who have, within the belief system, a saying that we’re as sick as our secrets. Why so many sickening secrets? Hiding our true thoughts, that we occasionally reveal with such things as cutesy, and false, internet usernames due to growing up in a fallen world until we feel guilty about the hiding from emotional savagery that’s displayed as being “nice” because it’s careful not to offend sick motivation.
    For a while I only said things through a false username and put out the most controversial comments in internet cafés where there was no record of who used the computer. Then I’d fret about being tracked through a hypothetical security camera. Finally I became “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of all this fear and started using my name. Since then there seems to be an organized persecution but, there seems to be two types of conspiracies. The one best known is where a group decides to work together and co-ordinates their activities and … one where individuals work independantly, and mostly unaware of each others’ activities, toward a common cause. Is either of those directing attention to me? I don’t know and don’t feel too paranoid at the moment but, have a feeling that I am being helped toward the blessing of the Eighth Beatitude. Maybe not but, contemplating the possibility reminds me that God’s in charge. Period.

  8. BeckyC says:

    “When I, this parish, or the Archdiocese seek to hire anyone or appoint them to some significant task, right at the top of the list, is to “Google” the person’s name. The Internet provides lots of valuable information about people.”

    On this subject the WSJ has an article today, “Web Profiles Haunt Students: Colleges vet applicants by checking online personas; bullying, plagiarism found.”

    I’m worried that the internet makes every sin, large and small, eternal: constantly un-forgiven and de-absolved.

    I want to protect the innocent, but I also want to give people second chances.

    Background checks are extremely useful — we have laws, you break them, there is a permanent record, and that record can be accessed to protect the innocent.

    But on the internet, a temporal statement of opinion can turn into an eternal crime of hate speech. More subtly, people can hire and fire based less on skills and a cooperative personality, and instead surround themselves by those who think exactly like them.

    My own kids have no Facebook presence. Which will probably raise red flags in the absence! My husband and I have wondered whether to help them put together a tidy page.

  9. Whimsical thought says:

    God sees our every action and even knows those secrets in the deepest places in our hearts. Makes the intrusion of the internet seem trivial by comaprision.

    Too bad we can’t get life of grace pop-ups – “remember to live charity to your co-workers”, “order is a virtue-get it together today”, ” have you overindulged in X; please see our handy confession schedule!”

    I guess that’s why we need to examine our conscience and listen to what ever God sends as a pop-up. Who could know us better than our Creator?

  10. RichardC says:

    “One nation under surveillance.”–I don’t like most caption t-shirts, but I like that one. Who is watching the watchers? That is what I want to know. I was at a non-Catholic web-site and there was a banner ad for Catholic ad. That surprised me.

    In the book of Ezekial, the angels have wheels and the wheels are filled with eyes. Ezekial definitely felt that God and his angels were watching him.

  11. Cathy says:

    No need to post this message, Msgr. Pope. Please pray for me. And thank you so much for your daily blogs. I have greatly profited from your essays and appreciate your dedication to teach us in this way. Thank you! You are very gifted.
    Bishop Richard Lennon, Diocese of Cleveland Ohio, has accepted my petition to enter consecrated life as a “Consecrated Virgin living in the World”. He will celebrate the Mass of Consecration in his rectory chapel on Friday October 5, 2012, at 9 am, so please keep me in your prayers.
    The Mass will be concelebrated by the Diocesan Vicar for Religious and by my Diocesan Spiritual Director. These priests are Capuchin Franciscan friars from the same community who have been with me in discernment. My parochial vicar from my home parish will also concelebrate.
    I can scarcely believe that the Consecration is about to become a reality. Thank You, dear sweet Jesus, for this great gift. Please fill me abundantly with grace and assist me in all ways to conform to You and to abandon myself entirely to You.
    Catholic Distance University was integral to my hearing and answering this calling. God bless CDU.
    October 5 is the feast day of St. Anna Schaeffer, a victim-soul who will be formally canonized by Pope Benedict on 10/21/2012. St. Anna, pray for us.
    Thank you, Msgr. Pope.

  12. Annette Strachan says:

    To be honest, if it wasn’t chaff , it wasn’t mine.

  13. Annette Strachan says:

    It is very easy to have the monthly e book ‘Roman Breviary in English’ and of St. Francis of Assisi in readings 4, 5, and 6. Then later to “…Blessed is he who seeth Him by whom he is seen…” in reading 9.

  14. Ryan says:

    Msgr. and others,

    While it is now possible for companies and other entities to monitor your every move online, it does mean that this behavior is ethical and should be permitted. For example, would you be comfortable if someone were to follow you around as you go about your day? I think some measure of privacy should be given to individuals even if they have “nothing to hide”. In the end, God is always watching, however people are a different story as innocent information about others can be used to harm them, e.g. credit card numbers get stolen, people gets stalked on the way home, etc. Also, information can be used to control people in unjust ways as totalitarian governments have done to their people.

    Here is a good article on the subject: http://lifehacker.com/5918171/plenty-to-hide

    Thus some precautions should be taken when going online, like using the Tor Browser (https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html) or Firefox with No Script + Ad Block Plus + HTTPS Everywhere + Ghostery.

    Here is a good article on protecting yourself online: http://lifehacker.com/5887140/everyones-trying-to-track-what-you-do-on-the-web-heres-how-to-stop-them

    I understand and agree about your point that we should always try to stay on the right with God, however that does not mean that we should surrender all of our personal information–especially online–with others who seek to exploit them.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks,
    Ryan

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