- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2019

Facebook insists it doesn’t listen on private conversations, and then use the content of those discussions to generate targeted advertisements to the user.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to.

Facebook has so many other ways of tracking, recording, surveilling and so forth that it doesn’t need the ears.

It’s the Big Brother that never quits. And as the company’s recent interest in digital currency shows — the super surveillance, the uber-data collection, the strangely dead-on targeted online marketing — are only going to grow worse.

Make way for total surveillance society.

In a recent interview on CBS, host Gayle King said to Adam Mosseri, the chief of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook: “I swear I think you guys are listening. Can you help me understand how I can be having a private conversation with someone about something I’m interested in seeing or buying, and an advertisement for that will pop up on my Instagram feed? [Even though] I haven’t searched for it, I haven’t talked to anybody about it.”

And Mosseri’s answer?

Eh. Nothing to see here; go home.

“We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone, doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons,” he said.

Yes. It would. But that doesn’t really answer the question. For that, USA Today turned to Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles.

“It’s like they’re stalking you,” Court said. “They put all sorts of circumstantial evidence together, and you’re marketed to as if they’re listening to your conversations.”

And with Facebook, the piecing of the marketing puzzle comes in large part by way of artificial intelligence. The social media giant uses algorithms to consider a slew of factors — the age of the user, the sex of the user, the parental status of the user, the geographical location of the user, the past search histories of the user, the posting selections of the user, and more, much more — to put together a package snapshot of likes, dislikes, preferences, interests, etc.

Post a picture to Instagram of a children’s birthday party? Don’t be surprised when ads pop for toys — and even for remarkably similar toys to those in the posted picture.

Post a selfie of a friendly meet-up at an Italian restaurant? Don’t be shocked when Facebook starts pitching, via advertisements, Italian cook books — or even low-cost flights to Italy.

“[Facebook’s] A.I. engine can determine intent from textual and visual material you provide,” said one tech expert, Phil Lieberman, in USA Today.

It’s almost like they’re listening.

But they’re not.

But they are always watching. Always collecting data. Always disseminating. Always learning. Like big google-y, wire-rimmed, non-blinking eyes in the sky.

And now Facebook has a new venture called Calibra, the digital wallet that will allow users to store and transfer currency using all its apps — Instagram, WhatsApp, Spotify? That’s in addition to the Libra currency that Facebook is poised to launch. Imagine the data collection there. Imagine the reach the company will be able to achieve.

Facebook can already track users on its sites, as well as on other websites and apps that tied into the company’s plugins and widgets — as well as on cell phones, with permission.

Libra, Calibra — these are super surveillance devices just waiting to burst onto the economic scene.

This isn’t just Big Tech.

It’s Big Brother. And it’s a Big Brother that could very well filter all the world’s currencies into a few, select custodial hands. Nail-biting? It should be. The potential dark side is a complete centralized banking system controlled by select global elites.

It all comes down to the question of trust — a question that goes like this: Do we trust Facebook to handle our personal financial data? Gulp.

The answer, given the company’s past and present tracking of personal information, is not the least bit comforting.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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