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 -