Posted on October 28, 2016 by staff

‘I’m no bigamist’


A few years ago my wife decided to buy some rattan furniture for our garden and used my laptop to do the research.

It only took an evening of internet searches and Pandora’s box was opened.

As if by magic, from that moment forth, every time I turned on my computer I was targeted with adverts about rattan furniture.

Of course, there’s nothing magical or new about targeted advertising. It’s been around for years, but as technology has improved so the advertisers have become more accurate in hitting their target audience.

I’m no tech expert but a lot of it is to do with ‘cookies’. As long ago as 2000 these started to receive negative media coverage because of privacy concerns, but they’re still here. They can track which pages you click on so you get targeted with advertising relevant to your browsing history.

I think the scary part is we don’t actually know how it works. These clever algorithms make sense of the fragmented jigsaw pieces of our lives and present the picture they think we want to see.

Facebook is a prime example. Earlier this year I commented to a friend that I couldn’t work out why a load of dating websites were appearing on my timeline as I’ve been happily married for 18 years.

“What does your marital status say?” asked my friend, grabbing my handset.

It turned out that my marital status was listed as ‘unspecified’, so I changed it to married.

Seconds later a message popped up along the lines of: “Congratulate Chris Maguire. He got married today.”

Suddenly all my friends and family started messaging me – including the first Mrs Maguire.

It turned out that although I’d updated my marital status I didn’t put the date of our nuptials so Facebook assumed it was the date I changed my status.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I’m no bigamist and remain happily married to the one and only Mrs M!

The reason I say all this is because of a strange thing that happened to me on Saturday as I drove home with my daughter after her goalkeeping practise.

A got a call on my mobile which was directed through to my hands free thanks to the powers of Bluetooth. A woman’s voice came over the speakers and the gist of what she said was: “I believe you have been involved in an accident.”

Now this annoyed me. Earlier this year I was the innocent victim of a multi-vehicle collision but I walked away uninjured.

“Where did you get my number from?” I barked down the phone but the voice didn’t reply.

Anyway I then launched into my best impression of the cantankerous Victor Meldrew character and none of my questions were being answered. It was like talking to a robot – when I realised I probably was.

Thinking I’d been randomly called by a bot powered by artificial intelligence I did some research and found a whole forum of people who’d been called by someone or something with the opening line: “I believe you have been involved in an accident.”

So what’s the moral of the story? For me it’s that technology is a microcosm of life.

There are good bits and bad bits, but the bad part is becoming increasing pervasive and it’s only going to get worse.

Our actions leave digital footprints and as our use of tech devices grows, so the unwanted intrusions into our life will increase too.