I was at a dinner table about a year ago, right after the first Edward Snowden leaks, when I heard for the first time an argument I've heard many times since.
"Why should I care? I'm not doing anything wrong."
This appears to be the opinion of the majority when it comes to the idea of the government using surveillance to fight terrorism. By Pew Research's estimates, 56 percent of Americans support the government listening in while it fights the "bad guys." And it has been this way for something like 12 years -- right after the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the war on terror.
Whichever side of the line you're on, part of my job as a journalist is to give you information. But as a consumer of journalism, I've found the stream of information about government surveillance over the last year to be exhausting and desensitizing. Heck, even data tracking and run-of-the-mill privacy online seems like such a huge issue that you want to just go Vint Cerf and suggest that privacy is an anomaly. But it's important to at least try to understand and remember the impact of government surveillance and what we know about it. That's why all this week we've been talking about your location data, your phone calls, and your address books for the Data on Our Data series.
I get the "why should I care" argument, I swear. I've echoed it myself a few times. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't worry me. I support our law enforcement agencies protecting us from attacks. But I also know governments are not static; they are living, breathing organizations that change and evolve drastically over time. And when it comes to surveillance, the big question is how and whether we are thinking about a time when our government might aggressively use ready access to data against its citizens.
It was hard enough for me, last year, to dust off my basic understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Patriot Act, and other legislation that has built the world we currently live in. But especially this week, I've been thinking about how governments aren't static, and how easy it is to forget the things we've put in place in the name of self-preservation.
All of this thinking about surveillance, government, and legislation has also reminded me of a chapter in my own history that I haven't thought of in a while. During my junior year of college in 2003, I worked in the D.C. office of a moderate Republican Congressman. My main job was to answer constituent correspondence with letters that represented the Congressman's policy positions, which he would then sign. One day near the end of my spring semester, I had an assignment I couldn't complete: I was supposed to answer a constituent letter about a proposed expansion of the Patriot Act. The letter had been sent, and signed, by librarians throughout the Congressman's home state who were opposed to the Patriot Act's allowance of officials to access library records. They were asking the Congressman to oppose any extension or expansion of the legislation, and really to roll it back entirely. As I was preparing to tell the librarians that the congressman fully supported the legislation, I made a discovery. One of the librarian signatures on the constituent letter was familiar to me. It belonged to my mother.
As the U.S. Open golf tournament starts today in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the event’s organizers kick off a campaign aimed at golfers, encouraging them to play shorter games: 9 holes, instead of 18.
Golf has been losing players by the hundreds of thousands, partly because it takes so long to play — up to five hours for 18 holes.
“If you go to a movie it takes two hours, if you go to dinner it takes two hours,” says Hunki Yun, of the U.S. Golf Association. “So, a five-hour round of golf is not necessarily compatible with today’s lifestyles.”
David Hueber takes some responsibility for the problem. As head of the National Golf Foundation in the 1980s, he helped launch a strategy to open more courses. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we developed a product our customers — that is, golfers — didn’t want to buy.”
The new courses were designed by marquee architects to be hard, meaning they took a long time to play.
They were also designed to be big — partly to satisfy the real-estate developers who funded them. The bigger the course, the more houses the developer could sell overlooking it. “Take a typical hole,” says Hueber. “If you add 50 yards to it, with home-sites on both sides, you’re going to pick up four home sites. You know, that could be a million dollars.”
Multiply that by 18, and a half-mile’s walk has been added to every game.
One of the scariest lines a bad guy in a movie can say is, “I know where you live.”
But these days, thanks to location data, online advertisers almost always know where you are.
In fact, Twitter and the Weather Channel want to let them in on still more information about potential customers -- a newly announced partnership will target ads, or “promoted Tweets,” to users based on where they live and what the weather’s like.
By letting advertisers know a customer is shivering or sweating, they’re hoping to help the company target its products.
“Sixty degrees might be cold in Miami, which means that you want hot coffee," says Curt Hecht, the global chief revenue officer at The Weather Channel. “Sixty degrees in Chicago means I’m getting an iced coffee, right?”
Hecht says The Weather Channel’s service doesn’t take into account users' interests through past posts or searches, but rather tries to predict their needs based on current and upcoming weather conditions. In the past, the company has worked with Pantene to market anti-fizz hair products to customers on days with high humidity.
“If previously we used to think more about different advertising for different people, now we’re starting to think different advertising for the same people at different states of their environment -- in this case weather,” explains Oded Netzer, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School.
There’s a strong correlation between weather and consumption, says Netzer. Knowing what the weather’s like is really useful for advertisers. Studies show that customers are generally more likely to buy things on nice days and even spend more for the same product if the weather is good.
“There’s some evidence that companies might be able to charge a little bit higher prices during warm weather conditions,” he says. “Whether this will be ethical to do and whether consumers react to that if companies do it is a whole different story.”
In other words, a consumer might find it helpful to see an ad for an umbrella right before it’s supposed to rain. Jacking up the price of air conditioners on a really hot day – not so much.