Facebook, photos and the CIA

When I was still living at home with my mother, I always knew the gossip and who went out with whom.  If I listened carefully, I could probably of worked out who shopped where, what they purchased and understand that their dress-sense was inappropriate for church and they didn’t fool anyone by dyeing their hair because the cuffs and collars didn’t match.  I knew all this because my mother was a member of a social networking site, established centuries ago and honed to a level of detailed reporting that Facebook or Twitter would envy and any marketer would give his right arm for.  It was called ‘friends’ and they would sit in my mother’s house, drinking coffee and eating cakes, spreading the ‘news’ and explaining exactly about Mrs Carter and her liking for the butcher’s sausage.  Occasionally, photographic evidence would be used to support the latest salacious nugget of information, because Mrs Skipsey just happened to have a picture of Mrs Carter’s daughter Jane in the background of a snap taken at her son’s friend’s birthday party and doesn’t Jane look like the Butcher more than Mrs Carter’s husband.  Then for good measure Mrs Skipsey would name everyone else in the picture and more gossip would follow.  Or, sometimes, if the gossip was really juicy, my mother would receive a phone call from one of her friends and of course feel obliged to pass it on.  Admit it, you have all seen this.

So why on earth has everyone in the world suddenly started criticising Facebook because they have the technology to identify who’s whom in pictures uploaded onto their clients’ pages?  Some of the more outlandish comments I have seen claim ‘Government snooping’ and the ‘end of privacy’ or ‘world government wanting to know everything about us’.  No.  I disagree.  Facebook launched the technology in order to help their users identify who is in the background, because if you are like me you have lots of old photos in a box where you haven’t the foggiest idea of who was sat at the table with you at Josephine’s wedding.  Facebook just goes through the photographs for you and the computer says “I think that is Jane, the one everyone just ‘knows’ is the butcher’s daughter.”  This is not a governmental or commercial conspiracy – its just gossip, only faster and electronic because nowadays most people work and haven’t got time to eat my mother’s cakes.

Like everyone, the government knows exactly who I am.  They know when I travel, what I earn, what car I drive and who lives in my house with me.  I have a passport and a driving licence, so they have my photograph and fingerprints.  And because I travel extensively in the US and Europe, more than one Government has this or similar information, even a scan of my iris for Border Control.  My employers have details of my academic record and the names and addresses of people I worked with.  Some prospective employers may even have details I tried to hide when I applied, depending on exactly what they asked my referees.  Add in credit checks and drug screens and you soon have an awful lot of information about you out there.  You know that when a very nice policeman pulls in behind you and runs your plates he not only knows who you are, but that your car is 5 years old and is only a base model and not the sports version like the badge you stuck on says.  He will also know that the car is really owned by the finance company and that you are a customer of abc insurance.  He may also be aware that this car was last seen outside xwz location yesterday.  But so would have my mother and her friends.

Some people worry about photographs – so what?  Everyone knows that you cannot walk into a bank or shop without being recorded on CCTV and traffic control cameras are everywhere. Anyone with a computer can connect to streaming pictures of freeways all over the world and I have in the past looked at the UK and Indianapolis simultaneously to compare weather conditions.  Images exist and just because Facebook tells you that in your tourist snaps of Paris the man sat behind on the steps of Notre Dame was M. Claude Boules it is only the same as if you happened to hear his name called anyway.  About a month ago, a friend mine from the United Kingdom sent me a photograph of me taken at an event I attended in San Francisco.  The photograph was a group publicity shot and the photographer had identified who was in attendance for the history of the event.  My friend had come across it through an indirect search and it was coincidence that we knew each other; otherwise my name would have been insignificant.  This is also the way with images and the photographs you put on Facebook, only significant to those who know or care about those photographed. 

I am purposefully avoiding the data companies hold on me, but my airline knows where I fly and my credit card company knows as well – together with my choice in rental cars and hotels.  My local supermarket knows what I buy, so the company could more than likely make a guess as to what I have for dinner most evenings.  So if they want to suggest that I eat my cow with a marinade made from the various sauces I buy, so be it.  It will save me the bother of having to look it up or running out to the drive-thru because I am sick of eating plain steaks.  But remember, when the response rate to direct marketing is less than 5%, it means that 95% is ‘junk’ mail, so if by using some clever data analysis they stop sending me invitations to subscribe to Vegan’s World magazine, I’m all for it.  And remember, a lot of us give this information away ourselves in the first place through surveys and not ticking the privacy boxes on forms.

Having a level of detail about you in the public arena is unavoidable, even if it’s the photograph of getting drunk with a college roommate 20 years ago, because the roommate remembers your name and tells the people who look at it when cleaning out the attic decades later.  Most photographs end up in a box with the subjects forgotten.  Yes, these photographs may now be electronic – so what. Unless of course you just happen to be a Senator trying to impress the ladies with your physique, but that is a whole different story.  And it’s not Facebook who will pull out that photograph of you at two years old naked in the kitchen sink, it will be you mother or your brother or even Facebook;s users, not the company.

Even with all the electronic media now available, I would still put a bet on my mother and her friends being able to spread the news about Mrs Carter and the greengrocer faster than Facebook any day.  The East Germans knew this before the end of the cold war, because instead of installing listening devices and using spy cameras, they recruited thousands of local gossips.  But the data collected just sat there because its just gossip and really, nobody cares.  My mother may talk about Mrs Carter, but in the next town it was Mrs Morris and everyone knew the Butcher didn’t have a bike.   And when it does come to government analysis, you know that with 18 different agencies in the US alone, there is no way they can look at the data.  Because even when a government has access to the latest technologies and numerous data gathering resources, it still takes almost 10 years for them to work out that the target is just outside a military base.   So in all, I would fear my mother and Mrs Skipsey well before I fear Facebook, simply because I can chose not to Facebook in the first place.


Naomi, Cadbury and the Tristan conspiracy

I wonder how many of you know or even care that Naomi Campbell, one of the world’s top models and a dedicated charity worker, parodied herself in a series of commercials for Dunkin Donuts?  Did you also know that in late 2010 the Kraft subsidiary Cadburys decided to expand its range of Bliss chocolate, focusing on the female market? Both these facts are relevant because Kraft now stands accused of racism, amid a clamour for a boycott of its products.  Oh, and the story has been picked up by news agencies and papers across the world, from New Zealand to the Americas.  Well, of course, not all of the story, just the more sensational bits that allows you to accuse a big bad multinational of being immoral and picking on some poor hardworking person.  But please, before rushing to judgement and adding to the scandal, spend five minutes examining the facts, and that includes you, Al Sharpton, because I am sure some people have your number on speed-dial for any perceived racist case in the same way as they keep the Doctor’s office on hand.

Cadbury is seeking to position the Bliss chocolate bar as the “perfect treat for the ladies” and the advertising campaign has personified the confectionary and has the Bliss bar attending traditional pampering scenarios, such as spa days – a spoilt rich indulgent lady.  They have carefully built brand values and have said this bar is well, a Diva.  But by Diva, I mean spoilt rich prima donna, not the traditional meaning of the fat (ooops, I mean differently sized) lady who sings at the end of an opera to tell everyone to go home.  But I am sure that some advertising and PR type called Tristam remembered the commercials that featured Naomi Campbell parodying herself playing – yes, that right – a Diva who threw a tantrum because she broke a heel on her stilettos.  As a result, a series of adverts were produced with a photograph of the Bliss bar with the line “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town”.  Job done, a witty advertising poster and Tristam can go and drink his Chablis in the latest trendy bar with all the others.

But no.  Naomi’s family took offence.  Not that they had called her a diva and not that the poster had mentioned any of the reasons why Naomi has earned the reputation for being a diva. (for you who may be unaware at this stage, let me tell you: she several convictions for assault, she is an ex cocaine user and is banned from flying with British Airways for life following an incident at Heathrow concerning so called lost luggage and an assault on two police officers.) I will admit the poster did feature the chocolate bar surrounded by diamonds, but most people would have seen that as a reference to the opulence of the Bliss bar itself, not as yet another one of the stories surrounding Naomi, as to exactly why she received so called ‘blood diamonds’ from the ex-president of Liberia who is currently in detention following trial on charges of war crimes by the United Nations, a trial that for all her humanitarian charitable works, Naomi had to be subpoenaed in order to give evidence and actually told the court that this “was a great inconvenience to her.”

So why are they not commenting on this but accusing Cadburys of racism?  Because Ms Campbell is of Afro-Jamaican decent and because chocolate is brown, then obviously you are calling her a what? A luxury Bliss chocolate bar that’s good enough to eat?  Perhaps former boyfriends like Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro or Flavio Briatore could tell you, but I am absolutely positive that being likened to Dove or Galaxy for example would not be used as a racist term when there are a quite a number of more abusive words and maybe a few words that have no basis in race whatsoever that anyone wishing to insult Ms Campbell could have used instead. (Well, maybe if it had been Hersheys, but that’s that different matter).  

Real racism is vile and I applaud the efforts to eradicate it, including Ms Campbell’s who has campaigned against bias in the fashion industry.  Yes there are real racists out there, but racism is where you refuse to accept that a person can be equal or better than you because of skin pigmentation or where their ancestors were from.   Racism is when you are made to use separate bathrooms and denied equal civil rights.  Recall Apartheid in South Africa?  Well, just remember that it ended in 1994 , only 20 years after the race riots of the 1970s in America.   I can once remember being surprised that some friends of mine refused to purchase their dream house because they saw the couple next door were Americans of African decent, pointing out that this would affect future resale values and that was just two years ago in a state in the American Mid-West.  Yes, racism does exist, but this whole new ‘manufactured’ spat between Kraft-Cadburys and Ms Campbell has nothing to do with racism, not really.

There are a few clues, one of which is the fact that the reporting of Ms Campbell’s perceived ‘outrage’ appeared in a piece in New Zealand and another in the UK within five hours of each other.  The second clue is the fact that when TV shows obscure the Ford badge on what is obviously a Ford F150 pickup because they didn’t have clearance to use the Ford name; you can bet that the lawyers working for Cadburys ad agency made sure that the advertisement had all the permissions going.   Forgive me for shouting collusion here, but have any of you heard of ‘The Outside Organisation’?  No? Well they just happen to be Ms Campbell’s PR agents and have represented her for quite a few years, in fact there is a case study on how they managed the media when Ms Campbell was explaining to the International Court of Justice in The Hague just how she was given two blood diamonds.   So, is it just possible that people working for ‘The Outside Organisation’ just happen to know people working for Cadburys advertising agency?  Perhaps, just perhaps, the Tristams of this world are going to earn their bonuses this year because Kraft can rest assured that product awareness has widened and The Outside Organisation must be grateful that their client is now getting sympathetic press at last.  But Racism?  Give me a Kit Kat, sorry, a break.

Sarah Palin’s relative ran an illegal Church.

Sarah Palin’s relative ran an illegal Church.  There.  Got your attention didn’t I.   I could also say that it was former President Bush’s cousin who ordered the fatal attack on Osama Bin Laden.  My partner’s brother-in-law’s grandmother’s third cousin’s wife’s daughter may have worked in McDonalds.   The first two statements are true: I honestly cannot truthfully say if my partner’s brother-in-law’s grandmother’s third cousin’s wife’s daughter may have worked in McDonalds or not and, to be honest, I don’t really care.  (But I do have a friend who works at a Wendy’s in Indiana and a relative works in McDonalds in Newport  – no, not that Newport, one of the other ones…)

If you survived the first paragraph, you may be asking where is this going?  Well, before the answer, consider this.  The grandson of a senior lecturer in zoology at Cambridge University is has admitted offences during a protest.  Interesting?  Maybe.  But now add another piece of information – It happens to be the son of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour – and gosh, we have scandal.

Earlier today I read in an edition of a UK newspaper that the daughter of Sarah Palin had been pulled over by a very nice policeman whilst she was driving an Escalade at 84mph in contravention of the speed limit of 65 and was duly issued with a ticket.  So this young lady has now become of one of the roughly 100,000 people a day who get a ticket in the United States.  Yes, that’s right.  On average, one in every six drivers get a speeding ticket each year – 41 million in the US.  In the UK, 2,000,000 speeding tickets were issued during the last year for which statistics are available, that is an average of over 5,200 per day.  If a single newspaper had to print the names of all those who get a speeding ticket in the US and UK every day, and each person has a forename and surname and you add in the speed and vehicle make – hold on, running out of fingers and toes here – that’s 420,800 words.  Considering that The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is accepted as being 884,000 words,  every day, a newspaper would publish the equivalent of half of Shakespeare’s anthology – just to inform its readers who got speeding tickets yesterday.

So, why was this particular young lady‘s misdemeanour published?  Silly me, I should have realized, it’s because she is the grand-daughter of Charles and Sarah Heath and everyone needs to know that their grand-daughter is capable of driving an Escalade faster than 65mph.  It’s like when I was a child, my mother would be sat with her friends and obviously start talking about the latest indiscretions of some person – well, more than likely to be just one of a handful of people – and I used to wonder exactly what the heck they were saying: “well, she’s got a nerve, in church like that”…. “not his see, thats the butchers” ….. “at it like rabbit”…..”if her dead mother knew, she’d be turning in her grave”.  I still don’t know exactly what they were talking about, but I do remember getting a slap when I asked Mrs Carter what did she have that belonged to the butcher, why was she a nervous rabbit in church and did she know what a brazen hussy was….

But at least my mother and her friends knew who Mrs Carter was and to be fair, were probable slightly jealous that Mrs Carter was getting free butcher’s sausage to feed her rabbit.  But I am sure that my mother didn’t care about the fact that some girl hundreds of miles away was making eyes at the baker.  So, why on earth would a newspaper make the assumption that one speeding ticket out of 100,000 is interesting?  For the same reason that a story about a man beating a dog must be more newsworthy if you mention that he worked for Dreamworks, the company co-founded by Steven Spielberg and producers of family orientated animations.  Mmmh. Lets follow that logic through:  A man should not be cruel to a dog because he works on children’s films.  So I wonder if the reverse is true:  A Catholic educated artist who was an ex-choirboy and loves dogs cannot be cruel to people.  Must go back in time and talk to Mrs Hitler about this. 

I can understand why.   I suppose when you sit down to write something and a blank sheet of paper stares back, defying you to make a mark on it and then on top you have to get someone to read it, it is easy to link your piece to a recognisable hook and apparently when your story is published on the interwebs something called a search engine will point people to your article by mistake.  For example, in this article I have managed to link Sarah Palin, Adolf Hitler, George Bush, the Church, McDonalds, Wendys, Pink Floyd, Cambridge University, Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg, Dave Gilmore and Mrs Carter’s butcher’s sausage.  Easy money.

So what of Mrs Palin’s relation used to run an illegal church?  Well, someone called John Lathrop was exiled to the United States from the United Kingdom in the mid 1600s for running a church that had broke away from the main Anglican faith.  His direct descendents include George Bush, Sarah Palin, Clint Eastwood, Brooke Shields and Sean Stmad, who is a rapper in Detroit.  Now if I had started this article saying that is was Sean Stmad’s relation who ran an illegal church, you wouldn’t have read this far. Oh, and before you ask, President Obama is apparently an 11th cousin of former president, George W. Bush.

 But I really don’t care.  When you used to go “Oh mom” when she was about to do something you disapproved of, you realize that you cannot be responsible for your mother’s actions in the same way as you cannot be held responsible for your children’s actions when they are in their late teens or young adults.  And I am really sure that Steven Spielberg’s animation studio does not require that “Ability to be Cruel to Animals” appears on a person’s resume in order for them to get a job.  So please, if you are a reporter and reading this, next time you have to write an article about someone speeding, make it about that couple down the road – you know, the ones with the red light outside the door and a great liking for butcher’s sausage.  At least this will be interesting to me as I know who they are and that they are not vegans. Oh, and their brother-in-law’s grandmother’s third cousin’s wife’s daughter was on a plane going to the same airport that the Queen once visited.