Trigger warning: rant ahead
PowerPal is a free service offered to Seniors to allow them to monitor their electricity usage. Given that we’re on fixed incomes while electricity [and gas] prices soar, being able to see how much electricity our appliances use is very helpful. Free is good too. But as they used to say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 😦
What is the price you have to pay for this free service? Geo location, that’s what.
For anyone under…50? GPS and geo location are so ubiquitous that no one even thinks about the security/privacy aspects. The truth is though, that Google – via Android mobile phones – can learn all sorts of things about us simply from knowing where we live…and where we go. That information is then shared with shadowy companies that aggregate that data to provide profiling data to big advertisers. That’s why advertisers send you all those strangely precise ads.
Those ads rake in big money, and ALL of the tech companies get their snouts in the trough, but Google and Facebook are two of the worst offenders.
I cut Facebook out of my life completely, and I tried to do the same to Google, but it’s simply not possible, not unless I move to a desert island and communicate by carrier pigeon. So I have a Youtube channel [Youtube is now owned by Google], and I have an Android [also owned by Google] mobile phone, but geo location is NOT enabled on that phone.
Mobile phones are the new black…
I was really looking forward to controlling my electricity consumption a bit better, so when I read about PowerPal on the Seniors newsletter, I jumped at the chance. Today was the day the technician came to install the hardware. I watched [fully masked] while he attached the lead from the hardware to my electricity meter. Then he helped me install the software on my phone. And only then was I informed that the app would not work without geo location enabled.
I won’t lie. For one awful moment, I stood there, silently debating whether turning on geo location would really be that bad? After all, everything was set up ready to go. And the technician said that geo location only had to be on when I wanted to check my usage…
And then reality hit home. Was I really going to turn geo location on and off every time? Of course not. I’d probably do it for the first week or so, but after that I’d either forget to turn it off, cave to convenience and keep it on, or simply not use the bloody app because it was too much of a hassle. In the meantime, Google would be able to track every move I made. Nah ah. Not gonna happen.
I know what most of you will be thinking right now – ‘This is paranoia.’ ‘Why would Google care about you?’ etc etc etc. And you’d be right. Google has no reason to care about me. I’m totally unimportant, and my life is completely boring, but that’s not the point. The point is that geo location would be one more piece in the jigsaw puzzle needed by the algorithms used by the ad networks to profile me.
Now let’s take it one step further. I’m completely unimportant, but what about my contacts? Do I know someone hiding from an abusive partner? Could a small, digital connection to me bring that person into danger?
You laugh. Ho ho, fiction writer syndrome.
Don’t be naive. Nasty people are happy to pay for apps that allow them to track their victims. Maybe not in our comfortable, middle class world, but they are out there and so are the algorithms that vacuum up every scrap of personal data we give away because…we have nothing to hide.
I don’t have anything to hide either, but maybe someone I know does. Maybe that someone is only a friend of a friend of a friend, but where’s the guarantee that a bit of throw away information won’t do them harm? Or what of the kids we’re so proud of. Do you really think that only nice people look at the photos of our kids and grandkids?
Of all the bits of information we give away daily, geo location is one of the most critical because it provides our physical location in the real world. That may not worry you; it worries me. So I told the technician to uninstall the hardware and the app.
The poor guy left so fast he must have thought he was dealing with a crazy lady. Then again, he looked to be in his early twenties. A child of the information age. Immortal. Invincible. Totally unconcerned about his privacy or online security because…it can’t happen! Right?
Okay, that’s me done. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. If anyone knows of a way to monitor energy consumption without selling my soul to Google, or paying an arm and a leg, I’m all ears.