Conspiracy Theories

I used to work with a guy who was big into conspiracy theories.  I should look him up and go out for a coffee to get his opinion on the current state of things.  He had lots of great references to 1984 and Brave New World and used them at every opportunity.  I remember reading both books in English in high school and we actually did have some great classroom conversations about them.  They were far more interesting than The Great Gatsby.  We really pleased our teacher with our hypothetical discussions but we all “knew” that the scenarios would never happen.

But when you think about “today”, we’re sure getting close.

From a technology point of view, we knew that there was a possibility of email getting into the wrong hands.  Who hasn’t got an email that was meant for someone else?  Whether it’s on a server with your employer or, more commonly these days “in the cloud”, it’s out there once you click send.  There are so many potential hands that it could fall into.  But that’s OK.  Your IT Department might stick a warning to the bottom of the email.  “Notice – if you are not the intended recipient….” followed by a bunch of hoops to jump through.  Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

But think of a typical day.

  • Walk the dog – in front of houses or stores with security cameras pointed out at you;
  • Fill up with gas – security cameras watching you from on high to make sure you read the pump toppers;
  • Go into the gas bar because the pump didn’t print your receipt – smile as you enter or approach the cash register;
  • You bank already knows that you were there and how much you bought and put on your debit/credit card;
  • Speaking of banks, time to hit the ATM.  Smile at the camera as you enter the bank and then at the camera over the ATM;
  • Time for a coffee?  You can’t avoid the camera pointing through the drive-through window;
  • This is a good one – after I went around the drive-through, I passed a gaming centre where there was a warning sign that facial recognition technology was in place;
  • Got to hit the grocery store?  You’re on camera entering and walking down all the aisles.  I wonder if I read the contents labels, shake my head, and then put it back on the shelf, if I’ve now participated in product research;
  • Even my hair cutting place has me checking in so that I can do a survey afterwards.  I wonder if I’d get a reminder if 6 weeks passes and I don’t go back?

The list could go on and on.

We’ve just become used to it; it’s part of living in society in the year 2015.  You can mitigate it but you can’t evade it.

Even when we go online, we’re not immune.  We know about the email thing.  We know that search engines will track and remember our searches.  We might use services like DuckDuckGo or advertisement browsing addons in our browsers to keep things to a minimum.  But, just like losing count of the cameras in the grocery store, are you sure you’ve blocked them all?  We know our phone listens to us.  (That’s what phones do, right?  I just had a visual of Maxwell Smart but I’m not sure any image is in the public domain so just click here for a smile.)  We’re happy with “OK, Google” or the Apple / Windows phone equivalent.

Who hasn’t heard about hackers who get inside your computer and access your camera to see what you’re up to?  The solution?  Put masking tape over the camera?

But, you can always turn the computer off and just watch television, right?  After all, I have such slow internet access here that it would take a week to download a movie should I elect to so I don’t have to worry about Netflix tracking my patterns.

So, just to extend the theories a bit further, these stories hit the news…


What about the classroom where SmartTVs are mounted on the wall instead of boards because they’re cool and funkier.  Is your television vendor the only one listening to you?  If you read the story above, they warn that the information could be given to third parties.  Who else would have an interest in spying in your classroom?

All of this is fodder for great discussions in the classroom.  We like technology when it works for us.  We don’t like technology when it works against us.  Where is that line?

This could go on forever.  Maybe the dog is right – let’s find a good, remote forest and just go for a walk.  I just have to remember to take off my Fitbit and making counting the steps a thinking activity.

2 thoughts on “Conspiracy Theories

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 02/15/2015 | doug — off the record

  2. Good discussion about the Samsung TV thing on Security Now! this week with Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson. Leo usually has interesting stuff to say about security, privacy, and secrecy, and the differences between those concepts.

    I was recently reading a book series about an assassin. As the series progressed, the protagonist’s job got a lot harder because of cameras tracking his movements.

    I guess that’s an upshot. 🙂


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