The idea of “being watched” by a compassionate God is not new. As Christians, every Sunday we rightly sing of God’s care and invite his watchfulness. Not everything will go our way; there may be days, years through which we feel afflicted, and yet we trust the God who knows us and watches us – at our best as well as our worst.
“You have looked deep into my heart, Lord
and you know all about me” Psalm 139,v1
But “being watched” is also an increasing trend in modern living. Every time you shop online — someone is watching. Your purchase is noticed so you can be targeted with ads, “recommendations” you are likely to respond to.
“You discover my thoughts …
You notice everything I do
and everywhere I go” Psalm 139,v2-3
Every time you casually search for stuff on the web – it gets recorded. That’s why you get those ads that “follow you around” based on stuff you once searched for, and importantly, stuff you might search for before you’ve even thought of it.
“…Before I even speak a word,
you know what I will say” Psalm 139,v4
Today of course we are highly mobile. Your phone or tablet is a sophisticated tracking device that let’s trackers know exactly where you have been, when you were there, and of course where you are now.
“You know all about me.
You know when I am resting
and when I am working” Psalm 139,v2
How Much Are You Worth?
Information about you is worth cash and advertisers will pay. Using a calculator published in the Financial Times, if you are looking for a new car your personal/contact details are sold for 0.2 cents. If you are pregnant or looking for a new house however you are worth more — your personal details are sold for a huge 8.5 cents. Once you are sold, you start getting not just online ads, but those cold calls as well.
Essentially, your mobile phone and your PC are an efficient “store card,” quietly collecting a vast array of information about you, your likes and dislikes, likely income, the family and friends you buy for, what you search for, and of course, if you are pregnant or house‐hunting.
Of course there are benefits. As consumers, finding exactly what we want is getting harder, there is always more out there to look at. Too much information about too many products with too little time to look is a feature of our culture.
Watches and Wearables
This is why I have concerns at the emerging “wearable technology”, highlighted by the launch of Apple’s Watch. Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of gadgets and tech. – and, to be fair, technology has paid my salary for 25+ years. But it’s the creeping intrusion of data‐collection into our lives that bothers me, and there seems to be no real public discussion on this.
Some examples: Apple and IBM have teamed up to collect health monitoring data from Apple Watches – “Apple Healthkit”. Of course this uploading of calories burned, heartrates and cholesterol levels could bring huge personal benefits and enhance medical research, but improper use of personal data certainly happens. Last week I heard a news item of people being cold‐called with “offers” because they had received a hip replacement. How did the cold calling company know this? Another article I read explained how supermarkets that run insurance companies are tracking shopping habits to offer discounts to customers they consider to be less risky, (….oops so no more Walkers Sensations and cans of Boddies).
Of course we can choose to opt out of marketing but this is increasingly difficult. Who has time to read lengthy on‐screen agreements? We just click “Agree” right? And only this week I purchased a train‐ticket online. I had to scrutinise the small‐print, tick 3 boxes and “untick” another box just to say “I DON’T WANT ADS!!” I only wanted to go to Nottingham. Be especially careful with those boxes that: “…pass your details on to carefully selected partners….”
Technology has become mobile, so we take it with us. We are approaching what they call the “internet of things” including connected cars, fridges, smoke‐alarms and numerous household items eg I recently noticed, Samsung’s SmartTV which is voice activated and uploads audible voice to third parties. And so technology becomes wearable. Wearable tech. is capable of knowing facts about us that we don’t know ourselves. Our health, our habits, and our bad habits, all become fair‐game.
God’s Deep Knowledge
“Where could I go to escape? …
Nothing about me is hidden from you!” Psalm 139,v7,15
Of course Psalm 139 isn’t about the Apple Watch, it’s about God’s “big data”. He only uses my information for my ultimate benefit, which He determines, He doesn’t use it to tempt me with offers, and he never passes it on to carefully selected third parties. Halleluiah!
I guess instead of armchair shopping, we could choose to go to the store and pay in cash with no loyalty points. But for most of us, that’s a tough call. In the battle of privacy versus convenience, it seems convenience wins, every time.
- Quotations are from Psalm 139, Contemporary English Version, and were taken selectively, and deliberately.
- “Big data” is the rise of colossal computing power, running on thousands of servers remotely located, “in the cloud”. These scan trillions of consumer transactions per second and are constantly fed with data coming in over superfast broadband connections to produce meaningful consumer intelligence – and targeted ads. The best known commercial big‐data service is probably Amazon Web Services.
“I can’t understand all of this!
Such wonderful knowledge
is far above me” Psalm 139,v6