How do you think about being monitored online?

I recently got engaged. Since many of my friends live miles away (from a phone call), I decided to have Facebook make an  announcement for me. By changing my Relationship Status, I received a lot of congratulations on my Facebook page. Additionally, I see a brand new collection of Facebook ads whenever I log in. To name a few: Elegant Wedding Dresses, Perfect Wedding Flavours, and M&S Wedding Cakes.

So the algorithms using “provided” information work out that my forthcoming wedding is likely to be in England, near a M&S or two. I was impressed yet a bit concerned. I give Facebook a FairPlay card on this occasion because I volunteered the information about my engagement. As I work in between the lines of marketing and advertising, I try to be considerate towards online customised ads. Though they are mostly manipulative, you might one day find them useful. For example, I will probably opt for M&S when it comes to cakes in my wedding.

But online monitoring does much more than sleeping with advertisers to manipulate users.

Here is another story.

For a while, I noticed that it was NOT my name that appeared in one of my email addresses. I bought a domain through WordPress so that I can have a cool email address like quynh@nightcactus.net. It says “Quynh” as in my name. But I noticed that when some friends emailed me via that address, the account name appeared as “Dung Nguyen” instead. I might be a bit forgetful but I definitely never called myself “Dung” or “Dung Nguyen”. Distrusting my own memory, I checked through all my account settings and found no “Dung Nguyen” anywhere. Still I received emails sent to a “Dung Nguyen” via that address. Failed to figure it out myself, I had my fiancé look into it. That is why we have fiancés, is it not? To investigate a serious identity fault.

This is what he found out.

I started to have a “new name” tagged to that email since last November. Also, the name tag only appeared to senders with Gmail Accounts.

So what happened last November with Google?

In a moment of brilliance, I realised that I opened a new Gmail account last November. It is for my brother, whose name is Dung. I must have put quynh@nightcactus.net as a secondary email for emergency and stuff. And Google must have made an “algorithmic” guess to take the name registered to its account and tag it to a back-up email provided by another party. In most cases, the logic would make sense though the action is NOT acceptable under any circumstances. Google helped me steal my brother’s identity without my consent. Thank you very much, Google!

My fiancé’s technical advice is to log into the Gmail account I created for my brother, and remove my email address. His moral advice is to close my Google Account like he did months ago when the NSA stories first came out. I have done neither. Instead, I write this. I chose writing as my way to make sense of this world, and to fight through its rights and wrongs. There should be boundaries for monitoring people online. In an ideal world, there should be NO monitoring at all.

SO there are points in life when you and I have to start saying NO to people who are capable of invading our privacy, giving us illusionary identities and taking away our freedom of choices.

Do something and do it soon!

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