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The Stalker is in the Machine

Controlling outside influences upon our students when they are supposedly in the safety of their public school isn't as straight forward as discussing whether a company's logo should be on the gymnasium wall, or whether soft drinks are being distributed from a machine, because the corporate logo is already in our classroom. It is on our students' computers and it is present on every page of the new textbook that is the Internet, which we provide to our students and demand they use. Corporate logos are placed upon the TV monitors in our classrooms, advertising movies to our students as part of the default function built into Apple TV, --a flagrant sales device designed to be difficult or impossible to remove, constantly reminding the open young minds of our children that the store is always open, that we can consume with the click of a button!-- Advertisements are played out to our students in nearly every transaction they make upon the Internet through adds on Google and Youtube, or for Google and Youtube, or more subvertly in corporately created blog articles and delicious tweets written by corporate PR professionals.

If one looks critically at the newest versions of the operating systems of Windows and Apple it is easy to see them as little more than digitial gateways to proprietary online stores. You may have opened your computer to type a novel, but, the online continually beckons for you to purchase. Computer manufacturers still talk about productivity but they have moved further away from their previous metaphor of being a "Tool" based technology company, towards an always on, always open for your business, retail store. - More like a utility than at tool. -- It isn't hard to see the Internet is a very big, very, very big store. Yet as ugly as this unannounced change from supporting the User to using the User is, it is at least a change we can actually see and comprehend. But what of what we don't see? There is a further more sophisticated marketing campaign affecting our culture and our children in near subliminal ways, orchestrated to alter our behaviour, to make us consume specific products and specific ideologies. No there aren't any conspiracy theories here, I am simply making reference to the tracking of every online move you make, the ceaseless data mining of your personal behavior. It is always fun to think upon what it is that Google and Facebook actually sell in order to make their money? They sell information about you. Their business models are based on the surveilance of the private individual...The surveilance of you.

Nothing costs quite so much as that which is supposedly free. The ongoing onslaught of technological data mining of the our students is being used to create "marketing" changes which profit the views and economies of those who track, data mine and manipulate. It is not only that advertisements are continually being presented to our students as they use the Internet as the main source for their education, it is also that as they research they are being researched. Every "click" they make online is recorded and studied for patterns of behavior. Every email scanned (read by a machine) for themes that can be exploited.This information is ultimately used to alter the behavior of the students for the benefit of someone else. We can only imagine what is being done, and what might be done, with all this data? Forget the image of the digital predator as a disgusting old man in his basement, think more of the stylized white of the apple experience, or of Google or Facebook. Students can not fend against this onslaught by being better digital citizens. Schools need to educate themselves on the coercive practices that are currently common practice on the Internet, and government needs to redefine privacy laws within the digital Oligarchy.

To illustrate the tracking of their Internet use, I asked my students to research 3d printers using Google. Then I asked them how many had noticed a rise in the number of 3d printer advertisements displayed to them when surfing. All of them had noticed a rise in advertising specifically tied to the searches they had undertaken. One student had been shopping for purple leather shoes on line. Her adds were mostly for shoes, interestingly the adds always showed the shoes as being purple. This type of manipulation can be seen and understood. Recognizing it can assist in diminishing the effect of it. But the machine is a tireless salesperson, always pushing, suggesting, seducing, relating and enticing you to act upon those consumer urges, and whether you buy now or wait, the machine is always learning about you, writing down notes about your actions, attempting to find a pattern that will lead you to purchase, to finally accept, "an offer that you can't refuse."

An example of a rather obscured manipulation of the User is found in simply recognizing that Bell Canada makes some of its money selling your information to outside sources. Bell is tracking your information and recording your relationships in order to feed anyone who will pay the price for everything it "knows" about you and your behavior. Note please, I did not write, "ONLINE" actions, because many online companies share their data with America's largest data mining company, Datalogistics. Datalogistics will meld all online data with their physical-world data, collected while tracking your interactions at physical-stores, comparing your charge card numbers, your GPS, and your phone's cell tower triangulations, they will track your activities and buying habits. At it's most obvious level, when you talk or write about wanting a car in emails or on any web page, you will notice a rise in automobile advertisements specifically placed on the pages you visit. But this is a simplistic algorithm of cause and effect, on a more sophisticated level the manipulate is more subtle and more complex, and perhaps more insidiously effective. When your every move is data mined, what will become of your privacy? How will the individual contend against a commercial force that knows every transaction you make, --every indiscretion,-- running tireless machines to silently subvert your actions to meet their desires.

Culturally we all understand the issues of a drink machine in the school and we all understand that corporate sponsorship may or may not have stipulations attached to it. These things deserve to be looked at critically and we should not forsake our responsibility to our students in contemplating how consumerism and corporate interest affect education. Yet it is important to understand how new and extremely powerful forces of coercion have entered our school through the use of the Internet. How can we protect the student from these new forces of coercion? It is our legal and moral responsibility to do so.