Look Who’s Stalking
Recently I needed to learn how to make a bomb for research in a book I was writing which has a terrorist theme. I’ve done this before, but back then there was no online tracking. When I did it this time I really upset my online footprint. I’ve described how to make a bomb before in a book (‘Psychoville’) but being a responsible citizen in the post-1984 world I left out some crucial details in the narrative.
Now, online researching has become quite tricky. If I use Amazon to look up a book it turns my buying interests list on its head. As more and more people feel threatened by the spying abilities of the internet, I realise that the argument ‘only felons need to be afraid’ is not valid. Our social habits are being exploited to an extraordinary degree. Recently a new Donmar play explored this problem, working out entire life histories from borrowed audience phones.
But does this perceived invasion of privacy actually hurt us? It’s meant to help us with our choices – for which read ‘retail choices’ – but surely it’s also limiting? If I decide to buy a book on Henry VIII I don’t want to be recommended endless books on Tudor history. I’m sure that, like you, I find some targeted ads intrusive and insensitive, but I’m not especially outraged. It’s not 1984 unless it’s turned against us. And of course, that conversation leads us to the NSA, where data gathering takes on political significance.
People do push back. There’s now a ‘black phone’ that hides its history and makes calls private again as consumers start choosing not to give companies and governments all their details. The website Ghostery shows you how the cyber-system works and how to block unwanted info-trawlers here.
I’ve yet to read a good thriller exploring this subject – has anyone else?