In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the nebulous presence of “Big Brother” was everywhere. The promise that “Big Brother is watching” was menacing and intrusive.
Yet, in today’s society, we have created and accepted all kinds of private intrusions.
It’s a little amusing, for instance, that local law enforcement officers had the ability to use a vehicle’s GPS system to track down a motorist who left the scene of a non-injury accident last weekend. The airbags in the vehicle had deployed, triggering notification to the OnStar emergency notification service. When OnStar contacted local officers, they were able to trace the vehicle and arrest a suspect.
We accept, even applaud, systems like OnStar as a safety feature but give little thought to how they could infringe on our privacy. Many people likely have been helped by the system, and the driver in Friday night’s crash deserved to be found, so what’s the problem?
Maybe there isn’t one, but the amount of information we share, knowingly or unknowingly, through various electronic devices is a sobering thought.
How does that store know exactly what coupons might draw you back through their doors? They can tell from your shopper’s card what you’ve bought in the past. Want a little chance to get away from it all? Your credit card company is tracking your every move. If you don’t let them know in advance that you’re traveling abroad they may cut off your card.
Federal legislators currently are looking at the amount of information gathered from people over the Internet. The sites you visit to read, network or shop all create a profile that advertisers can use to target you as a customers, and some lawmakers want consumers to have more control over that information and how it’s used.
If you’re knocked unconscious or being held against your will, the ability to trace your whereabouts through the cellular phone that’s in your pocket could be a life-saving event. But the idea that information about your whereabouts, your shopping preferences and any number of other topics is available, whether you want it to be or not, to people you don’t know and may not care to do business with is a sobering thought.
In “1984,” Big Brother was a sinister presence whom you probably wouldn’t want to see on your doorstep. Ironically, most of us have invited the same kind of intrusions into our homes without a second thought.