Google Knows by Chris Green
‘You may have a point with what you were saying last week,’ Max says. ‘Every time I search for something online, I get adverts for products vaguely related to it for days. Nine times out of ten, I didn’t even want whatever it was in the first place.’
‘Frightening, isn’t it?’ Eddie says. ‘All that unnecessary information they must store somewhere. Google probably knows more about me than I do. Targeted ads pop up everywhere. Social media is the worst. Some days, every other post on my Facebook timeline is an unsolicited sponsored ad. Then there are those pop-ups on follow up posts that track your cursor around the screen.’
‘But you have to put it into perspective, Eddie,’ Max says. ‘You are complicit. Google only knows what you let them know. For instance, not that it’s going to happen, but if you never went on the internet, they wouldn’t know anything about you. And let’s face it, you are on the internet more than most people.’
‘But that wouldn’t matter anyway,’ Eddie says. ‘Google knows more than you think. They have spies in the sky. They have cameras on the streets. They keep track of your car. They watch you through your webcam, even when you are not online. They listen to your phone conversations. They even listen when your phone is in your pocket; they will be listening to us talking now. They even have a man in a white van, parked outside our house. Believe me, Google knows everything about everyone.’
‘Before you go off on one, Eddie. If there is a man parked in a white van outside your house, which I doubt, then it is probably the police, thinking that you are a drug dealer, and that the visitors you and Charlotte have come round to buy drugs. In which case, you should probably be careful, if you know what I mean. Besides, if you didn’t want Google to know so much, you wouldn’t have the Google speaker in the front room. And I expect you’ve connected it to your mobile phone. I expect you could talk to your Google speaker right now from the Goat and Bicycle and ask it to turn the house lights on, switch on the TV, or put the cat out.’
‘We haven’t got a cat, Max. Charlotte hates cats’
‘Not yet, you haven’t. But judging by what you are telling me, you will be inundated with adverts for cats when you get home, along with offers on bulk pet supplies.’
‘OK. Let’s test this one out,’ Eddie says. ‘As an experiment to see what happens. I’ll put my phone on the bar for sound quality so that Google can understand what we are saying. Then we can check what ads I get when I get back home. What shall we talk about?’
‘OK, let’s talk about yoga.’
‘I don’t know much about yoga, Max.’
‘Exactly. Neither do I, Ed. That’s the point. If you’re right, when you log in later, you ought to get information about yoga classes near you popping up all over your desktop.’
‘Along with a staggering array of ads for yoga mats, yoga fashion wear, headbands, leggings, and probably new-age paraphernalia and self-help books. Google will see this as a big marketing opportunity and pull out all the stops. OK, let’s get on to it.’
They spark up a conversation about yoga which, in absence of any detailed knowledge, lasts for about two minutes and centres largely around the frequent mention of the word itself.
‘There, that should do it,’ Eddie says. ‘My desktop will be yoga central later.’
‘OK, let’s try something different,’ Max says. ‘Switch off your phone, grab your pint and let’s go over there where it’s quiet.’
‘Part of the experiment?’
‘Exactly! Bear with me!’
‘What about your phone?’
‘Mine’s already off. Right, now we can talk about anything at all and Google won’t be able to pick up on it.’
They talk about Tuvalu and Vanuatu on the basis that it would be obvious if, out of the blue, you received advertising for these remote places. This could only appear in response to their conversation. Max then starts to talk about BDSM and fetish gear. If there’s one topic guaranteed to generate the internet’s interest, it is porn. If ads for any of these items turn up when Eddie logs in, Max reasons, he will acknowledge that something more sinister is afoot. He moves the conversation on to bombs, guns and drugs to prove once and for all that given their phone blackout, even these subjects will trigger nothing in cyberspace.
‘It should be impossible for Google to have registered any of this conversion,’ he says. ‘Agreed?’
‘Theoretically,’ Eddie says. ‘But….’
‘You realise you have a tendency towards paranoia,’ Max says.
‘I’ll let you know what I find later,’ Eddie says.
‘Before we leave it, Ed,’ Max says. ‘There’s one thing I’m still puzzled about. Although I can now see that my Google search terms generate ads and pop-ups, at other times these bear no relation to the pages I visit or anything I might have searched for. They seem completely random. Why would that be?’
‘Who knows how the algorithms work?’ Eddie says. ‘Perhaps Kathy or the kids have been searching for those things. Same household, same IP address, you see. But I’m sure if you were to follow it day-to-day, you would find there is a correlation between the sites you visit and the ads you get. It’s been proven. ….. By the way, I didn’t like to bring it up earlier, but who is that fellow over there in the raincoat? He keeps looking this way.’
‘Oh, him. He’s nothing to worry about. He’s often in here at this time of day. He doesn’t say a lot. He usually has his head in a newspaper. He comes in to get away from the wife, I shouldn’t wonder. Or perhaps he’s lost his job and still pretends to go to work every morning.’
When Eddie gets home, the white van with the blacked-out windows is still parked outside. Perhaps it does not belong to Google after all. With their other sophisticated means of surveillance, a man in a van would seem to be a little prosaic. Might Max be right? Not that they get sufficient visitors to arouse suspicion, but perhaps, to be on the safe side, he ought to hide the weed in the shed.
When he gets inside, he bangs his head on a large bamboo wind-chime in the hallway. He is certain this wasn’t there earlier. The air is filled with the aromatic fragrance of patchouli incense burning. Or perhaps it is sandalwood. Charlotte must be home. She must have taken a half-day off. He discovers to his surprise that she seems to have taken up yoga. At least this is what she appears to be doing on the front room carpet. She seems to be well-kitted out too with bespoke yoga gear and has a new-age CD playing. How long has this been going on, he wonders?
‘Ah, you’re back, Ed,’ Charlotte says, straightening herself up. She turns the music down. ‘I thought it was time to get myself in shape. I’ve been putting it off for far too long. Do you like my new bodysuit? I can see you do. Look! I’ve had this fantastic idea. I think it’s time we had a holiday. We deserve it, don’t you think? We haven’t had one for such a long time. I fancy somewhere exotic. Somewhere away from it all. I was thinking we might break into our savings and try Tuvalu or Vanuatu.’
Eddie’s phone pings. He has a new message. It is from Max.
I guess you were right, it says, I’m getting sponsored ads for hard-core porn, and I’ve been invited to a weapons fair.
There appears to be no end to what is floating around there in cyberspace. One thing is certain, Google knows about it.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2021: All rights reserved