It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our devices are spying on us. I’m old enough to remember the bout of German Angst over the 1984(!) census, and the moral panic about bringing computers into our homes. A mere three decades down the line, my phone is constantly tracking my movements, pulse, and exact position. It knows what I read, with whom I interact, what I listen to, what I order, and where I’d rather be – all in a bid to serve me targeted ads. Amazon, Facebook, Google as well as many other players have models of me, which they update in realtime. Cue Cambridge Analytica and all that jazz.
So it fills me with great joy to see the algorithms cock up every once in a while. It began in 2019, when some machine decided to personalise the commercials which interrupt the podcasts that I’m listening to. Generic messages about products and services that I’m not interested in were replaced by ever more frantic appeals to “get ready for Brexit” (that was before the buffoon got Brexit done™, obviously). The mildly funny thing is that HMG and their algos could not decide whether I was a bloody European living in the UK, whom they should grudgingly urge to apply for settled status, or a brave expat about to get stuck with the huns.
Once the UK left for good and the pandemic kicked in, the podcast ads subsided. But then, over the last six months or so, the algorithms came up with a new image of me. They were now sure that I was a Brit trapped on the continent and began sending promoted content to my twitter feed. Stuff like this video (sorry, I only got a still)
Going by its content, it would seem that I’m a senior British person hellbent on getting the Krankenkasse to sponsor his hip replacement. Compared to this work of art, the following post was utterly generic and so boring that I did not click a single time.
I liked hip man much better, and he kept reappearing in my feed, first only on twitter, then also on Facebook. But the novelty wore off, and I stopped clicking. And so, after a hiatus, the powers that be modified their model of me and decided that I was more interested in driving than in walking and needed to get my licence exchanged.
Being already in possession of a German driving licence, I did not react. Which is why the machines that watch over us changed tack again. Today, my alter ego became younger, female, and moved to somewhat edgier surroundings.
And the volume went up. A few minutes later, the same add popped up again on a different device
It is kind of heartwarming that the same government that is turning the UK into a hostile environment for my fellow Europeans is caring so much about my wellbeing over here. Also, they keep watching me, and advertising on social is dirt cheap. That’s why I’m already looking forward to what will come next.