Surveilling the Sheep

I visited someone’s home last month. I’d typed their postcode into Google Maps on my phone and was pleased to be safely directed to the street from over eighty miles away. The robotic lady in my phone was very patient with me, allowing the odd detour to buy supplies, and gently urging me into the best lane when necessary. 

As I arrived onto the correct street, which was rather long, she then continued to direct me to the exact house, and to park on the address’ driveway. I was pleased with this, until I realised I had not typed the house number into the phone. From where had it got the information? I can only imagine that it had read an email from 2016 in which the postcode and house number were sent together. The machines at Google Corporation had evidently traced this and helpfully given me more direction than I’d requested. Helpful, yet somehow rather chilling. 

We are all under surveillance. We each carry about microphones and cameras; ‘they’ know the sites we look at, the searches we make and the ‘likes’ we bestow. Not only do these giant tech corps know where we are and what we seek, they can know our very inner lives. According to Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, the machines also know what you are thinking. Over 58,000 American volunteers provided researchers with their Facebook Likes, detailed demographic profiles and the results of several psychometric tests. The computer algorithms then correctly discriminated between homosexual and heterosexual men in 88% of cases, African Americans and Caucasian Americans in 95% of cases, and between Democrat and Republican voters in 85% of cases. This means that online ads can be tailor-made for their intended recipients, though it might soon be applied to credit scores. For example, someone researching bankruptcy might be more likely to be declined for a mortgage; someone searching ‘bowel cancer’ might pay higher health insurance premiums where healthcare is not universal 

In 1 Chronicles 21, we read ‘Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.’ Counting citizens is not intrinsically evil, but David’s enquiring into his people’s lives was opposed by God. There are some things that God alone must know; inquisitive kings and acquisitive corporations are to keep their bounds. The next time you are upset about state surveillance, be more concerned about what the big boys of commerce know about you. Remember that you kindly purchased the equipment from them and freely carry it about with you each day, slaking their thirst for knowledge about your comings, goings and doings.

Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?” 2 Samuel 24:17