Careful, you’re being followed

When it comes to jungle safaris, tracking might be one idea that springs to mind. How does tracking and its cousin tracing, happen in the Technojungle?

The first time I ordered something through a company on the Internet, I was surprise how I could track the shipment. Every time the package moved, it got scanned which left a footprint I could track. We can track to follow a parcel to our doorstep. If it doesn’t arrive, the path can be traced.

I can remember using a special kind of semi-translucent, or semi-see through, paper called tracing paper. We would lay it on top of a picture and follow the lines to make a tracing which we could colour, or change in any way we wanted. We had a copy which we could somewhat modify. This is one of my early uses of the word tracing.

Then there’s the guy in a scene of a movie who wants to find out where someone is going. The person just drove off in a car, so the guy runs up to a taxi and shouts, “Quick, follow that car!” The taxi dashes off before the guy can get into the taxi. We follow to find out something.

An example of tracking and tracing is contained in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. The two children are led into the woods to be left to fend for themselves. So they won’t actually get lost, they trace their path by leaving tracks of bread crumbs. Unfortunately birds follow and track them eating the bread crumbs leaving the children lost. They are captured by an evil witch living in a house made of cakes and goodies which would attract children she could then eat.

Often an expert tracker, perhaps aboriginal, is called in to track someone. The tracker picks up the various clues, such as footprints, broken twigs and other signs, as a means to trace and follow the path. Perhaps dogs are brought in to assist and they pick up the scent. 

Wild animals in the jungles track another animal for food or even track humans. Aircraft are tracked and traced by air traffic controllers. Police have traced phone calls to find criminals. We often hear of authorities tracking and tracing terrorist activities. Tracking and tracing is common in both fiction and real life. Sometimes we say that something has disappeared or vanished ‘without a trace.’ I have probably seen dozens of examples in the movies or on TV of somebody tracking another person or animal, some even in a jungle. What other kinds of tracking and tracing have you seen?

Asking questions will start us tracking down some answers and tracing ideas. Questioning is what this book is about, to get us to start asking questions—look, see, ask

Much of my own use of the online Technojungle is to track and trace various types of information. You can track stories in the news, sports (I am not much of a sports enthusiast), the weather, or trending information on social media (I am not in to social media very much), just to name a few. People active on social media will Follow other people, groups, organizations, or businesses, to know what they are doing. We can investigate and trace the origin of something, such as the origins of table manners, or how we came to have AC current in our North American homes. What sorts of tracking and tracing do you do, or could you do in the Technojungle?

The online and wireless Technojungle allows for an astonishing number of extraordinary ways for other people, groups, organizations and corporations to track and trace us—more than anyone could ever have imagined only a couple of decades ago. If you have a cell phone, you are being tracked and traced. It is part of how cell phones work. If you have a computer connected to the Internet Technojungle, you are tracked and traced every time you do most online activities. Do you know that, even after you have completed some activities, you can be traced because you leave a trail? Criminals of the Technojungle have to be very careful to cover their digital tracks or the authorities will have no trouble tracing the criminal’s path and tracking them down. Do you use Technojungle services, such as search engines and shopping websites? These all track and trace you so that they can target advertising at you. They want to know your interests and as much about you as they can. That’s how they make money. They are ad brokers operating on a scale as never seen before. Have you notice advertising that follows you around the Web? What do you think about this and how do you feel about corporations profiting from selling information about you? Are you aware of any other results from you being tracked and traced?

I was on my landline telephone today talking to the head office of the manufacturer of one of our appliances. The automated telephone system had a callback feature, so I would not have to wait online for the estimated ten minutes—that is ten minutes after I have found my way to the correct department. It asked for me to confirm my telephone number which it told me I was calling from. The system knew the phone number of the phone I was using probably by using Caller ID. I didn’t give my name, or any other information. I got the callback, but, after some odd sounds, it gave me a busy signal. Oh well, we know that no technology is perfect, something each of us should now be keeping in mind as we carry on through this book. I ended up calling again, going through the system to get to the right department and then waiting another ten minutes on the line. While this example doesn’t relate to advertising, it did have a bit of a creepy factor to it because there was no human involved.

It seems to me that the tracking and tracing carried out by the Technojungle for its various reasons, is somewhat like the air traffic controllers on the one hand, and can be very much like the wild beast of the jungle on the other hand. Like air traffic controllers because we are assisted in getting around and finding what we are looking for. Most trackers and tracers are corporations that are like wild Technobeasts. But  don’t forget there are other humans out there somewhere with malicious intent, such as hackers and even cyber terrorists. The purposes of tracking and tracing by the corporations is probably not to physically harm or eat us, at least not yet. Who might be tracking and tracing you and what might their purposes be?

In my lifetime I have seen tracking and tracing of us humans move from mostly being done by, or under the control of, other humans, to being done by mostly or entirely by machines. As smarter machines are developed, they take more and more control of our world and our lives. 

I grew up with the notion of a robot as a device that could move around, or an arm-like machine that did industrial work. Then, a few years ago, I heard of bots. A bot is artificially intelligent (AI) software that is like a robot, however, it doesn’t move around in the physical world, only the online world. We probably can’t even imagine how tracking us might be used in the future. After all, we are learning that the techno-future comes to us as we don’t really expect it and brings baggage that we never imagined. 

One reason we might not mind visual surveillance by cameras is because we may believe we can’t be recognized. However, in addition to all the other tracking technologies, facial recognition technologies can instantly identify people.

Much of this tracking and tracing is covert; it happens behind our backs without us knowing, at least not consciously. We don’t think about it because we are so wrapped up in whatever activity is drawing us to use a system and service. It is the quiet sneaking around of the Technojungle in the backyards of our lives. 

For me, the notion of permission in this online Technojungle world is more than confusing. Somewhere along the way we are giving permission for a lot of this tracking and tracing by simply using a particular online system and service. Buried in the small print of terms of use, user agreements, and privacy statements, which are often pages and pages long, we can find some of the details of how this happens. Of course, nobody has time to read these Technojungle agreements, nor understand them. Still, I’m quite sure that much of the tracking and tracing is in fact done without our permission. 

When I see an opportunity to read what I am actually agreeing to, I usually hear myself say in my mind, “Somebody must have read this and would have done something if anything is wrong here.” What do you do when those little agreement messages show up on Technojungle websites? Or other pop-up message boxes saying something like, “I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the terms of use….”? Somewhere would be a checkbox or button to click to submit your agreement. Most of us probably don’t know half of what we are agreeing to (and can’t even imagine the rest). I think these agreements are cleverly written and what we can be sure of is that the agreements do not favour the human users, they only protect and favour the Technojungle corporation. Shouldn’t we be demanding these agreements, licences, etc. be human friendly and simple to understand stating in simple terms up front when tracking and tracing is involved and how? I don’t think there should be even more Technojungle baggage for us to deal with.

It needs to be clearer just exactly what information about you is going to be tracked, traced, collected, stored—even shared—and how it will be used. Also we should be carefully warned when policies change in the future and given a clear option-in (opt-in) and not a default of option-out (opt-out). This means we need to always be on the look-out for these changes. That sounds like it could take up a lot of our time. 

It seems unlikely that corporations would use the opt-in choice since tracking and tracing is the way they make money. Since it is nearly impossible to know if we are being tracked and traced, corporations would likely do it anyway, even if we are led to believe they are not. It is all far too complicated and beyond our ability to understand. Do you believe you know how to check to see if you are being tracked, traced, or watched in any possible way? This is most definitely dehumanizing.

All this boils down to surveillance. Should this just be an acceptable reality of life in this Technojungle world? Much of it may come under the auspices of protecting us from terrorist activity, so why would we give terrorists the ability to opt-out? How many other dehumanizing aspects of the Technojungle world are we accepting as just a reality of life?

For years I have heard alarmists telling us that Big Brother is watching. Perhaps this is actually true. Big Brother might be the Technojungle, or someone behind the Technocurtain. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”—Wizard of Oz.

Whether it be under the guise of informing us through advertising of more things we might want to buy, or providing some sort of safety and security from terrorists, tracking and tracing is only going to increase. As more Technojungle services and devices enter our lives, as marketing competition increases and terrorist activity grows, there will be more reasons to track and trace us. 

What happened during the pandemic? How has tracking and tracing increased both in capabilities and need? More human activities, from work, to worship, to shopping, and more have all moved online as people were placed in a Coronavirus COVID-19 confinement lockdown. In addition, Contact Tracing has become an important aspect of managing the spread of a virus outbreak. From what we have been learning in this book, this all means there are more means for us to be affected by tracking and tracing as well as other issues we are discussing in these books. 

The Chinese government installed millions of cameras with facial recognition and stated that they could locate any person anywhere within five minutes. In China and South Korea, smart phone apps allow a level of contact tracing that would never be tolerated in Western countries. In China, through tracking and tracing, people are assigned a social credit score based on their obeying the government. People with a poor social credit score are restricted from activities.

There are discussions of a vaccine that would include digital ID technologies for identifying those who are vaccinated. The information included could consist of much more data and information about a person, such as financial. Vaccinated people would then have freedom to go places where doors would open for them and they could make purchases by automatic payment. This scenario is moving fast and may be implemented by the time you read this. My hope is that you think twice about taking such a vaccine that would give such power and control over your life to whoever is in charge. 

The pandemic has shown just how unprepared we can be for what can come so suddenly and unexpectedly in the near future.

We are all targets and suspects at the same time. All our Technojungle paths, even our own private ones, are open for scrutiny and inspection We don’t seem to have any privacy—there seems to be no place for humans to hide in the Technojungle. We are all trackers and tracked, tracers and traced. In other words we are hunters and the hunted at the same time and always prey to the corporations of the Technojungle as we cling to being human beings in the this world of technology.

As hunters and the hunted, we can be trackers and tracers, but we are also the tracked and traced. It can be a dangerous place. What about your own information, that which is personal to you? Do you feel it is safe and private? Can you hide in the Technojungle?


2 Comments

  1. I have heard that as technology gives us more of what we want to watch and read, we can end up in a tiny bubble of our own predetermined thoughts, never being challenging by the wider world. This can be very true politically, as powerful lobbyists use the internet to dripfeed their agendas to likely consumers. Is this making us more narrow-minded while giving us the illusion that the whole world agrees with us?
    “Do you use Technojungle services, such as search engines and shopping websites? These all track and trace you so that they can target advertising at you. They want to know your interests and as much about you as they can. That’s how they make money. They are ad brokers operating on a scale as never seen before. Have you notice advertising that follows you around the Web?”

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  2. I have a chapter in book two dealing with filter bubbles and echo chambers. Although I have avoided mentioning anything about politics, I may add something to book two which I’m working on finalizing for the new year. I may also say more about Marshal McLuhan who said, “The medium is the message.” He also came up with the idea of a Global Village and predicted the World Wide Web long before it showed up.

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