Till the last decade of the last century, the shadow of a nuclear holocaust, of World War III between the heavily armed camps of the Cold War, cast a pall over “life as we know it”. One trigger-happy leader could spell the end of days. But for over half a century, till the fall of the Berlin Wall, people continued to live and work as though the world wasn’t about to explode, and those building underground shelters stocked with canned goods were dismissed as being paranoid. Now, in the age of social media, the internet, smartphones and big data, it seems a new paranoia is that we are all under surveillance. But, as Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Google, whose map is trusted by hundreds of millions, has been seemingly spying on those who would rather not share their location history. A report by Associated Press has found that even when iOS and Android users turned off their “location history”, Google continues to collect their data — it stores a snapshot of where you are when you open Maps, checking weather updates provides an almost exact location of an Android user, as does using the search engine. Google, which along with Facebook (though not to as great a degree) has been under the scanner both in Europe and the US over targeted advertising and privacy concerns, insists that “it provides clear descriptions of tools and how to turn them off”. A Luddite critic, in her ignorance, may argue that most would assume that turning off “location history”, in fact, turns off location history.
US brands alone are set to spend about $20 billion on location-targeted advertising in 2018. Data collection is now likely too entrenched, the conveniences of the smartphone too great to let privacy be a dampener. And for the paranoid, there’s this consolation: Like their ancestors in the last century, they can always ignore the ghost in the machine.