Jack Tame: Oh Big Brother, you're going way too far

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Taking the time to examine your Facebook ads can make for a depressing self-analysis.

For a company that mines its users' information, then uses the data to tailor the products it tries to sell, the ad banner on my Facebook page is a steady reminder of how dull my life really is.

There are no ads for tattoo parlours. Few for holiday spots or rock concerts or even busty young women offering the sly-grinned promise of lonely local singles.

"Find Affordable Dentists," says the dominant ad on my page.

There's another ad below it for cheap "first time" contact lenses.

I don't wear glasses. Perhaps Facebook knows something I don't.

But for all the uproar and ethical debates, I've never actually been all that upset by the modern practice of digital data mining.

So Google wants to track my activity, then tailor the results and ads it shows? Sweet. Whatever.

And if ceding a little privacy saves me from a plethora of discount carpet ads, then I'm all for a little Orwellian sacrifice.

At least the corporates are somewhat open about it, because the US Government is not. For more than six weeks, it's been seizing the phone records of millions of US citizens, apparently scanning their numbers and data for any calls to suspected terrorists.

The action was publicised only after a secret court order was leaked to the media. There's no telling how many other companies have also had their data seized, but the order could be one of hundreds.

And whoever tipped off the press must be feeling particularly brave, after the Justice Department recently flexed its big-brother biceps to smoke out its internal leaks.

The department subpoenaed the phone records of the Associated Press, then obtained a warrant to examine the emails of a reporter from Fox News. Never mind source protection or privacy. Never mind oversight from the Fourth Estate.

National security may be a legitimate reason to check up on the US population. But it's a blanket excuse. A trump card used to justify behaviour that, if left unchecked, might too easily get out of hand.

I don't mind Facebook selling me cavities and contacts, but let's not get carried away.

- Herald on Sunday

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