Advertising and You: Big Brother is Watching

8 Jul

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? And I don’t mean being spied upon by that creepy stalker girl you dated for a week and then dumped, who six months later still hangs around outside your house wearing nothing but a trench coat, trying to tempt you with her less-than-stellar attributes into taking her back.

creepy girl in trench coat

It’s even worse than when you’re fifteen and you decide to try your hand at shoplifting for the first time, so you snag the limited-edition Bruce Campbell As Ash figurine you’ve wanted since you first saw Army of Darkness and shove it under your coat, all the while casting fearful glances at the rotating black spheres that house the department store’s security cameras (most of which, I discovered later in life, don’t even work).

security camera

Compared to what I’m talking about, it’s a walk in the park to be run through the wringer by your musician father who seems to know exactly what drugs you’re on (probably thanks to personal experience) no matter how much Visine and chewing gum you use to cover up the more obvious of the symptoms.

your dad on drugs

No, my dear readers, the kind of surveillance I’m talking about is of the Orwellian variety. For those of you who’d rather turn on a rerun of The O.C. than open one of those old-timey “book” things you might have seen kicking around, George Orwell was a writer who postulated that in the year 1984 the world would be run by an insidious pseudo-theocratic dictatorship in which the government kept a weather eye on each and every citizen, twenty-four hours a day, to ensure that nobody ever committed a crime like free thought.

george orwell 1984

He might have been off by a couple decades, but thanks to the evil geniuses who run marketing and advertising conglomerates, Orwell’s prophecy is poised to come true in ways that beggar even my substantial vocabulary’s ability to elucidate (translation: I’m at a loss for words – if you can believe that).


I’m sure by now everybody who’s anybody either uses, has seen, or at least has heard of Gmail, Google’s answer to the MSN/Hotmail phenomenon of the mid-90s. Gmail is a great program, as far as I’m concerned – I don’t even use my Hotmail account anymore, for anything other than instant messaging and casually sorting through junk mail for amusement’s sake now and again.

junk mail

The only thing that really gets under my skin about Gmail is its adaptive advertising software, in which a program (presumably a program – I doubt if they’d hire people to do the job of a machine, which will of course become the standard in the New World Order…dun dun dun) surreptitiously reads the text of my emails and offers targeted sidebar advertising based on what I’m writing about to and from my correspondents. As you might imagine I get a lot of ads for bulk whiskey sales, discount condoms, and red-eye flights to Marrakesh.

gmail advertising

What grinds my gears is that, human or not, Google is reading my mail. In fact, on some level I’m even more bothered by the idea of a software program going through my personal correspondence and picking out buzz words to try and sell me shit I don’t need (except maybe the whiskey). I’ve seen Terminator and I’ve seen The Matrix. I know where this ends up.

machines rule the world

And now, those evil bastards are trying to breach the fourth wall and bring this sinister snooping software out of the dream and into the real world.

freddy krueger

According to this article, several major tech companies want to develop technology that will allow the ads you see every day on your morning commute – from subway posters to billboards to signs on lampposts pasted up by squeegie kids who play in a no-name punk band – to intuitively flesh out your gender, age, and the brand names of anything that might be on your person, including your Starbucks cup, your D&G sunglasses, your Arnold Palmer teeshirt, and the LCBO bag in your hand. They’ll implement this through the use of high-sensitivity cameras married to little computer brains like the one on Amazon that says “If you liked this piece of shit product, let us try to sell you ninety other related piece of shit products other people like you have purchased”.

amazon product suggestion

From a purely marketing standpoint, this is a million-dollar idea. Anything that allows advertisers to get farther into your head and your wallet will be jumped on like the trampoline owned by the fat, smelly kid nobody likes but everybody pays lip service to befriending because he owns said trampoline. Like Bill Hicks used to say, advertisers are – in a lot of ways – the spawn of Satan, and they will do anything they can in the name of that Holiest of Holy Grails, the bottom line.

bill hicks

Thankfully, there are still enough people out there who value things like privacy that it doesn’t look like an idea like this will move forward anytime soon. Which is good, because I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to live in a world where somebody is watching me all the time.

minority report

But the danger is there. We have the technology, ladies and gentlemen, to keep tabs on every man, woman and child on this planet. Developments like the Patriot Act in the United States that curtail the individual rights of citizens and allow the government to poke their nose into all your transactions and conversations are just the beginning. Don’t fool yourself – no matter how innocuous or even useful a technology might seem, it can just as easily be reverse-engineered into a tool of oppression.

cell phone tracking

Get educated. Get informed. Don’t let shit like this slide under your radar, because otherwise you might find yourself waking up one morning to yawn, cough, stretch, and step in front of your two-way TV screen to perform your daily genuflections to Big Brother.

big brother

7 Responses to “Advertising and You: Big Brother is Watching”

  1. 迷你倉 July 9, 2009 at 3:44 AM #

    Google has plans for its own personal computer operating system, the company’s official blog has announced, setting up another clash between the Internet search king and software giant Microsoft.

    ”We’re announcing a new project,” said the Mountain View, California-based company, revealing the system would be based on Google’s Chrome browser and would be an open source operating system initially targeted at netbooks.

    The move is ”our attempt to rethink what operating systems should be,” Google said.

    The search engine giant said it will open source the code for ”Chrome OS” for user input and that netbooks running the system will be available by the middle of next year.

    ”Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds,” the company said.

    Google noted that in deciding to embark on the new track, they took heed of its user messages, namely that ”computers need to get better.”

    People ”want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them,” and they want to access the internet instantly, Google said, adding that “we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision.”

    The Chrome browser was originally launched in September but has failed to enjoy the spectacular success of Google’s search engine.

    The company floated its first US television advertisements in recent months for Chrome, as the browser has only captured a tiny share of a market dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

    Microsoft’s freshly launched search engine Bing, meanwhile, aimed to hit back at Google’s gains in the search market, although it still lags behind its rival.

    Web analytics firm StatCounter said last week that Bing had carved out an 8.23 percent share of the US search market last month, up from 7.21 percent in April and 7.81 percent in May.

    By contrast, however, Google continued to dominate the search market with a huge 78.48 percent share last month.

    Google already has an operating system, Android, but the company said in its announcement that while there was some overlap, they were separate entities.

    Android is only used for mobile phones at the moment, but the software has showcased Google’s keen interest in expanding beyond its search engine base.


  2. Solar Power July 9, 2009 at 6:09 AM #

    Site Bookmarked!! I usually dont comment on blogs, but this is an awesome piece of work. I finally found1 that Im into… I’ll be back often.

  3. Shayla July 9, 2009 at 2:02 PM #

    Yeah, this stuff freaks me out too. The Toronto Public Space Committee has a few anti-advertising campaigns I’ve been involved with over the years that relate somewhat to this. On a wider privacy note, they also have an anti-CCTV camera campaign that I think is pretty important (check out the demonstration we did, it was pretty funny:

    And SPEAKING of advertising, is it just me or does “Solar Powered” above me appear to be a semi-sophisticated spambot?

  4. Shayla July 9, 2009 at 2:03 PM #

    Shit. You have to take the ) off the end of that URL to get it to work.

  5. Robissick@home July 9, 2009 at 10:25 PM #

    You should have added or talked about the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report in this blog. It’s based in the future and shows exactly the type of advertising your writing about. Though the use of optical scanners take the place of digital cameras in this story. Cool post, fun read.

  6. Surveillance Equipment July 16, 2009 at 4:53 AM #

    I like this new knowledge.

  7. Izola Goad June 12, 2010 at 11:53 AM #

    This is a good post, you have a good blog! Another blog about this theme is hxxp://marriedpersonals[com]

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