The Word on the Week

Facebook is Watching You

“The only thing George Orwell got wrong” said Tony in the Men’s Shed “was the date 1984”!
The famous futuristic book has come to pass. The ‘thought police’ have arrived. You are known and that means a lot more than your postal address and email!

Recent revelations have shown that the data-mining and consultancy company, Cambridge Analytica, have been harvesting the personal information of Facebook users, without the permission of the users. Everything you ‘like’ is recorded in the famous algorithm which analyses what matters turn you on and what you dislike.

With such a wealth of information, when Trump was electioneering in Ohio for instance, he could get location specific details to tailor his speech to suit the ‘likes’ of the majority of his audience! Before you write this off as a US problem you should know that Cambridge Analytica were involved in the Brexit campaign which may help to account for the result which took even Johnston and Farage by surprise.
It seemed a small piece of research that Cambridge Analytica carried out. It was in the form of a personality quiz in which existing Facebook users revealed their thoughts. These were matched against the existing data (the ‘likes’) to fill in the thinking which led to the choices. Only 270,000 people completed the quiz but the company now had access to their friends! Again, without permission, and it is reckoned that the friends amounted to 50 million, providing a rich data harvest!

So what about the other networks? There is Instagram. Always a favourite for those who like pictures. It is owned by Facebook and if you are using the same email address for both this helps to locate your data and especially your home location. Then there is WhatsApp another Facebook acquisition. It is encrypted so your messages are safe. However, there is a lot of background information such as the frequency of usage, phone contacts and use of ‘cookies’ to harvest. Then there is Messenger. Facebook has admitted scanning their messenger chats to better understand their user’s needs.
Facebook has itself reaped a large revenue from advertisements targeted at user’s preferences. This has seen something of a setback this week with the withdrawal of Mozilla and other major purchasers of advertising space. Cambridge Analytica will come under more scrutiny but the fact remains that the preferences of millions and more importantly the thinking that influenced those preferences is ‘out there’ and there are no controls on its usage!

The Bible has always shown God to be all knowing, all seeing and ever present. The Psalmist recognises this and writes “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (139 verse 2).
Jesus, who the writer to the Hebrews states is the exact representation of God’s being, knew what was in the heart of man (St John Chapter 2 verse 25). This understanding enabled John to go on to write chapter 3 of his Gospel when Nicodemus came looking for Jesus one night. Nicodemus was looking for information and addressed Jesus as teacher. It wasn’t more information he needed it was a correct understanding of what he already knew. After telling him that a radical change was required he revealed that he, Jesus, was to be the crucified (lifted up) opening up a way for those who believed in him to have eternal life (Chapter 3 verses 3 to 14).

Nicodemus went on to defend Jesus before the Pharisees and later to assist in bringing Jesus body to the tomb. These were courageous acts for a man who was not only a Pharisee but a member of their ruling council (St John Chapters 19 and 7 verses 39 and 50).

We don’t need to be concerned by “thought police” but we do need to grasp what Nicodemus came to understand, it’s not more information we need but faith in the crucified and risen One.