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.

Masks and Trash Pickers

Nextdoor for those of you who may not know is a web service organized by neighborhoods where one can ask for recommendation about plumbers or painters or post questions and grievances. A few days ago a woman posted that she came home to find 2 men rummaging through her trash, and what upset her was that they wore no masks. Somehow the post took flight. A man with a Hispanic surname (thus debunking many stereotypes one may have about Hispanics) said that trash picking was illegal, they were stealing from the county who would otherwise benefit from the sale of the recyclables. Someone else agreed. Then someone said the trash pickers were like environmentalists recycling what we threw away.  Someone then posted it’s like the French revolution, Marie Antoinette wanted them hungry people to eat cake because they were hungry and had no bread; he explained, these are hard times, people are scrounging to survive. Someone then replied how she felt for those people. The person with the original post said I just wanted them to wear masks, so someone said, then maybe leave some masks out for them. Then a new person wrote they were criminals and another answered if it is illegal, do you want these people prosecuted? Is that how you want your tax dollars spent? It’s a very small fraction of the crimes occurring, that would be a misuse of scarce public resources, that person added. And many agreed.

Rare is the neighborhood who doesn’t have people rummage through the trash bins for recyclables, things they can reuse, or maybe resale somehow. I remember a documentary about a couple who rose at 4am to rummage through the trash, and that is how they made their living. What a hard job it is, what an unpleasant one, thus my respect for people who rummage through our trash. Yes, they usually don’t wear masks, they leave the bin’s lid open, they can have loud music, but they are to me a part of modern life, a benign one at that. What was striking to me about the Nextdoor postings, was how divided the exchanges were, how many people were willing to condemn the practice, and how many reacted with no compassion. But If I had to put a percentage to that portion, it would be 40%. The rest reacted and defended the original offenders. It all left me asking, does the incident represent the state of the nation these days, condemning people trying to survive and showing no compassion, versus those who strove to understand? And if it does, then compassion won! There’s hope. Let’s take heart!

The Virus and the End of Polio

I’ve been following the struggles to end polio for some years. Of course, coronavirus now intensifies my interest. While it’s been eradicated in most of the world, several countries were and are challenges. Somalia finally overcame its problems with the Puntland in 2014. Angola had a resurgence and was able to overcome it. This August Africa was at last declared polio-free. It is because the state of Borno in Northern Nigeria has finally been able to keep its new cases at bay thus enabling the Africa Regional Certification Commission to declare success. Borno is a remote region, a seat of Boko Haram, and the health workers, usually women, bringing the vaccine had a very hard time there including fighting the idea that the vaccine made women infertile. Several lost their lives. To note is that the testimony and examples of polio survivors along with the involvement of the WHO were important part of this achievement. The African success is more than statistics, or the words polio-free. It is a triumph over obstacles conquered one by one over a number of years. It therefore makes it a big achievement not only for Africa, but for the world. Afghanistan and Pakistan are now the only 2 countries left where polio exists. The health workers there face even more obstacles than they did in Northern Nigeria. Many leaders in those countries, particularly in rural areas think of the vaccine as a tool of the Western world, and want little to do with it. In countries where vaccination rates are low, there is also the risk polio could return. While those of us in the West need not be concerned, there is still a little way to go (by comparison to where we began) before the disease can be totally conquered. What makes this story particularly relevant to our struggle with coronavirus is that there is no cure for polio, just as there is no cure for Covid-19. Polio is not as lethal as our present virus can be, and is more likely to affect children under five, sometimes paralyzing them for life or even being a cause of death. Since 1952 when the Salk vaccine was first utilized, polio eradication has been a process. We are so eager for any kind of solutions to our present adjustments that we may not want to admit that our fight with coronavirus is likely to take time. But what is important to remember is that it is not how long it takes, it is being successful that matters in the end.

Living With The Virus

As we know the virus has altered more activities and affected more economic sectors than we can quickly recall. One is the movie industry searching for how productions could safely resume. Universal Studios latest sequel to Jurassic World can perhaps now set an example, or at least answer some questions. The $200 million production spent $9 million making sure cast and crew would be safe. It issued a 107-page manual and involved the cast in the preparations something that is usually not done. They rented a hotel, and the staff is tested.  The cast and crew are tested Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The sets are restricted in the same ways they usually are when intimate scenes are shot. The cast puts on their own microphones. The set is sprayed with sanitizer daily and contacts are minimized in all ways possible. It’s not the details I found relevant, although most of us do enjoy a peek behind the scenes of movie making. What is relevant to all of us is that they did it. They found ways around the norms in order to be safe and do what is necessary to keep the virus at bay. And they did it in a way that is not as expensive as one might think. The cost added less than 5% to their budget.

I chose this article to base my post upon because it’s a reminder and a harbinger. Despite the demands and lack of social distancing inherent in movie production, the measures taken in this case bode well for the economy, certainly, but even more important, bode well for virus protection. They point the way for us to find ways to adjust. Many are rebelling, in denial or complacent, and here is a concrete example to help us accept that normal is now different, and most of all, an example that says yes, we can live with this virus!