Google, the enabler for the big-brother era of retail

If you click on an ad for the new Ford Taurus on a website that uses Google to serve ads (and Google serves about 13% of all online ads), then go to your local Ford dealership to check out the car in-person, Google (and the dealership) will be able to connect the dots without you ever knowing it.

This is old news, but it was news to me. This is creepy shit.

More from this Digiday article from 2013:

Dan Auerbach, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that users might not realize they’ve opted in to constant location tracking when they opt in to “location services.”

“The disclosure mechanism for these apps are pretty weak,” he said. “I think there’s a gap between user expectations and what apps are really doing.”

It gets even better for Android users:

It is easiest for Google to conduct this passive location tracking on Android users, since Google has embedded location tracking into the software. Once Android users opt in to location services, Google starts collecting their location data as continuously as technologically possible. (Its ability to do so is dependent on cell tower or Wi-Fi signal strength.)

The only way out of this tracking for non-Android owners is to uninstall every location-aware Google app from your phone, including Google Maps and Waze:

But Google can also constantly track the location of iPhone users by way of Google apps for iOS […]

Google’s namesake iOS app—commonly referred to as Google mobile search—continues collecting a user’s location information when it runs in the background.

You can apparently opt out of this on a per-app basis. Not sure how to do that, what it’s called in the app settings menu, or how many people actually do this.

See also: More about Google on this blog.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives

This is eye-opening:

[Owen Mundy] was using Instagram like everybody and photographing… [his] life. And it never occurred to [him] that [his] phone was geotagging all the photographs with the location and including that information and uploading that.

The surprise drove Mundy to create the website,
I Know Where Your Cat Lives. He took pictures publicly shared on photo sites like Instagram and Flickr—photos tagged with the word cat.

He then used the location data embedded in those pictures to place them on a Google map. And we should say he gathered a million of these cat photos. Well, every so often it’s someone dressed in a catsuit.

Meet the Guy Who’s Putting Your Cat on the Map {npr}

Just Insert Another Coin

It’s time for another edition of That Ain’t Smart, That’s Creepy, where we fast forward to bring you the latest technologies that give us pause, and make us wish we could rewind.

This is an excerpt from an idea—not an actual product—dreamed up by Mark Strand:

[The grave marker] would include, in addition to the usual name, date, and epitaph, a slot where a coin could be inserted, that would activate a tape machine built into it, and play the deceased’s favorite songs, jokes, passages from scriptures, quotes by great men and speeches addressed to their fellow citizens, and whatever else they find worthy of preserving for posterity. …

One of the benefits of this invention, as [Strand] saw it, is that it would transform these notoriously gloomy and desolate places by attracting big crowds—not just of the relatives and acquaintances of the deceased, but also complete strangers seeking entertainment and the pearls of wisdom and musical selections of hundreds and hundreds of unknown men and women.

Via {andrew sullivan}.

Read more about tombstone technology {this blog}.

And a related, albeit more current, thought about our recent inability to deal with uncertainty from Adam Frank {npr}:

In a foreign city or just a drive out of town, our GPS-enabled smartphones pin our positions on digital maps to within a few meters. We are rarely without facts anymore. Any question that has an objective answer — from the last day of the Civil War to the maximum speed of a Boeing 777 — is as close as Google. For a broad class of experience in modern life we have become very used to “knowing.” Events a world away may be subject to our opinions but rarely anymore are they cloaked in an enveloping darkness.

How then can Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappear in good weather over shallow, heavily trafficked seas?

Friday Link List

That ain’t smart, that’s creepy edition.

1. Social Media and the Peril of Looking for ‘Likes’ {rushkoff}

But it does create an oddly circular culture: Kids develop social media audiences in order to become “stars,” which really just means having enough social media followers to sell out to a brand for sponsorship. Perhaps more amazingly, none of them seem to mind. When I asked kids what they thought about “selling out” for my PBS documentary on social media, none of them could even tell me what “selling out” meant. They thought it had something to do with there not being any tickets left for a concert.

2. We Might Be Able to Predict the Future Using Social Media. But Should We? {tldr/on the media}

[Author Nathan] Kallus’s study predicts that in the future, using social media to forecast the likelihood of big events like protests could help make us all safer. It’s hard not to read that and worry a little. After all, the Mubarak regime could’ve used that same predictive technology to quash the Tahrir Square protests before they ever happened. The obvious sci-fi dystopia movie reference here is the movie “Minority Report,” which presented a world where the government targets citizens for the crimes they might one day commit.

That Ain’t Smart, That’s Creepy: Facebook Edition

Facebook’s financial success hinges on their ability to create the most robust digital profile of each of its users—and then sell that information to advertisers.

The most recent demonstration of their ambition: Facebook Home for Android. From an article by Om Malik {giga om; via daring fireball}:

If you install this, then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action…

So if your phone doesn’t move from a single location between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for say a week or so, Facebook can quickly deduce the location of your home. Facebook will be able to pinpoint on a map where your home is, whether you share your personal address with the site or not. It can start to build a bigger and better profile of you on its servers. It can start to correlate all of your relationships, all of the places you shop, all of the restaurants you dine in and other such data. The data from accelerometer inside your phone could tell it if you are walking, running or driving. As Zuckerberg said — unlike the iPhone and iOS, Android allows Facebook to do whatever it wants on the platform, and that means accessing the hardware as well.

Read more in my That Ain’t Smart, That’s Creepy series.