Friday, January 25, 2013

The Enemy Within

   There was a time when 1984 seemed a long time in the future, and the concept of Big Brother seeing into one’s very soul was far-fetched.
    But now-- Okay, we’ve known for a long time that the library has a list of all the books you’ve checked out. Or maybe it doesn’t – it seems some libraries stopped keeping those records after Monica Lewinsky’s book preferences were subpoenaed during the Bill Clinton kerfuffle. Amazon, though – they know everything I’ve ordered, going way back, including whatever library books I’ve downloaded to my Kindle.
    And yes, the supermarket keeps track of all our tastes, by offering a supposed discount if we swipe through those membership cards. You have to wonder if anyone ever pays full price. When I forget my discount card, an obliging checkout clerk – or the customer standing behind me – usually offers a substitute one, just to hurry things up.
   And of course there’s the constant threat of someone taking long-distance control of your computer to read all your secrets and hack into those convenient Internet banking records.
    But yesterday I was brought up short by the discovery of a new and totally unsuspected Enemy Within. I went for a routine call-back at the Hearing Center, (yes, more loss in the past year, thank you). Then my hearing aids were attached to a computer, and the doctor said cheerfully, “Well, I don’t have to scold you for not wearing them enough; I see that you keep them on about 10 hours a day. And I’m glad to know the hearing loss isn’t slowing you down – you’re still going to restaurants, lectures…” I forget what else she said, what else was listed on the screen in front of us, because I was so stunned.
    My very own hearing aids, those innocent-looking inch-long traitors, have been spying on me. It seems that every time they adjusted themselves for a different environment, they made a note of it. For all I know, they’ve been forwarding all my conversations to the FBI.
   Do you think I should sue? Surely that should have been disclosed at the start?
   Or maybe they did tell me, but I didn’t hear.


  1. Amazon also keeps track of when you stop reading a particular title, and where. They are gathering data to help authors write books that will be more popular. Meanwhile, the Whitefish Bay library long has erased the history of what you check out. Moral: Check out library books, but not on a Kindle.

  2. Oh, but consider what a help it'll be for your biographer!
    When I was writing my dissertation, It was a huge help to know what books Goethe took out of the Weimar library and when and how long he kept them.

    1. Amy: You wrote your dissertation on Goethe? Wow, between that and the "ascending tricolon" business at last Saturday's JASNA meeting, I am totally impressed.

      Edith: Alas, I join you in fearing that privacy is a thing of the past. Every click we make on a computer is being noted by somebody, somewhere. For example, every time I check out an online mail-order site (LL Bean, Chico's, etc.), I get pop-up ads for that merchant on other sites for a considerable period thereafter. Actually, I'm only checking out those sites to find out how much money I saved by purchasing items at the Salvation Army, but it's a habit I may have to break.

  3. My biographer (ha) can do her own digging.

  4. omg that really is frightening. at the same time, very cool that the hearing aids automatically adjust depending on the type of sounds around you. big brother isn't watching, he's listening.

  5. Aw...
    Still, the data-miners often get things very wrong indeed, which convinces me that there is still hope. Facebook ads seem to think I'm a vicar with an unruly vestry and a deep and abiding interest in ugly shoes.