Digital Ads That Spy On You

Digital ads on billboard that you may encounter as you drive can now spy on those who look at them. It’s not called this, it’s referred to as a radar, but spying is in essence what it is.  It has to do with the technology that tracks your phone. You are driving and you look at an ad, and they know much about you through the data they collect. I don’t understand all of it, so I can’t tell you how they do that, but it is now possible.  It is based and focused on the signals which are emitted from our devices, or I suppose whatever electronic systems such as GPS are in our cars. The problem, and to me and certain privacy advocates it certainly is a problem, is what is being done with the data that is collected. It’s all sort of new, and it’s all opaque. And I am not sure that time will necessarily add to transparency. Clear Channel Outdoor has been using this technology in the US including Los Angeles for the last four years, and is now ready to use it in Europe. What I thought was important was that the article describing its US usage added the word, quietly when describing their practices. The problem is that private companies, the names of which are not all known, are using the information for their own profits and purposes. The technology is the same as that used in surveillance and privacy experts are concerned that a commercial surveillance network is being built and given that so many companies are involved, it makes the practice even scarier. Of course Clear Channel says this is to help advertisers better understand consumer behavior and advertising campaign effectiveness.

Whatever reasons all the business concerns may give, it is difficult to see how advertising that utilizes surveillance technology can be benign to consumers. I don’t know if consumers can manage to stop the practice, but I know that it is something we need to know more about.

Mail Carriers and Heat Exposure

It was 90 degrees one day, I waited until it was cooler to walk to the store, and noticed many less people on our street walking their dogs. Most of us avoid heat exposure, something many mail carriers cannot do.  I have a friend who delivers mail in Tucson, Arizona, where the temperature can easily be 115F, and of course when he’s driving, the temperature is at least 10 degrees higher in his vehicle. His route causes him to walk 9.7 miles a day whether it’s hot, or raining, or cold, or blustery, or whatever extremes of temperatures we all usually shun. The Center for Public Integrity recently published an article “Extreme Heat Doesn’t stop the Mail—Even at the Cost of Postal Workers’ Health” which informs us that OSHA the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Postal Service for placing at risk of illness or even death from heat exposure over 900 workers since 2012. Inspectors observed workers with heat related symptoms such as extreme cramps, vomiting while walking, losing consciousness, shooting pains down their legs and in their chest. During their observation period at least 5 carriers died from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia or heart failure.  From January 2015 to October 2018, 93 postal employees were hospitalized. And then there is the issue with vehicles. In 2017 70% of all vehicles did not have air conditioning and there doesn’t seem to be much progress in making sure that has or will be changed in the near future.  Heat poses many dangers to postal workers and the US Postal Service hasn’t addressed those dangers says the article, has not issued standards, has not changed conditions, has not taken enough measures to protect its workforce.  The USPS is a vital part of how our society functions, and as we realize this in the midst of budget and operational cuts along with other USPS upheavals, it is important for us to stop and recognize how much we owe our mail carriers.

Racism and Public Health

Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics,  such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.

In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.

Talk of Changes

Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.

The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.

The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.

Meanwhile the BBC carried a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.

It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources.