Big Brother watching you; little sister listens in

I sat down in the empty chair in front of him. He must have gotten on at an earlier stop. He was on the phone. “Was it a case of lack of teachers?” he asked.

“Vacancy for me?” I wondered. No, he was talking to a friend who either worked in education, or at some government’s institute with an educational link; maybe even the ministry.

He continued: “Yesterday, I met this guy who build that app? It’s really something for you. You can use it in schools. It’s a Dutchman who built this app, but he lives in Belgium.”

I sighed and thought “Ah, another Dutch tax dodger.”

“Yes, they’re going to use it to check on patients. His idea was: how often a day do you unlock your mob. How long does it take. How long before people get irritated. Standford researched: 1.6 seconds. He wanted to use that time profitable. So he built this Question-Answer App.”

“Filthy controlling profit-maker,” I thought, “it’s not about profit for us phone-owners. Unlock a phone ten times a day? Don’t people have a life without being hooked up to a mob 24/7?”

“He already sold it to some medic comp. Each time a patient unlocks his phone he gets a question first. Are you feeling well? Do you experience pain? Have you taken your medication? It’s brilliant.”

“No it ain’t!” I mused, “Guess how fast I’ll throw my mob out of the window because I’m forced to answer a question first, before I can use it. Less than 1 second flat.”

Oblivious, he nattered on: “Yeah, you can use it in schools and universities. After history lessons, students get a fact question to check they’ve not been sleeping. You can even build in a time-lapse. The Dutch guy sold the app to some Belgian governmental benefit club? They now use it for graduates.”

“All university graduates have to register as jobless? Just before they graduate, they receive a set of questions on their mobs. Have you registered? Is your CV ready? They get these yes/no questions which force them to go through the whole process. It’s a training program. Yes, it directs them. No, they can’t ignore or skip a step. It’s a totally controlled procedure. When they answer no to CV, they receive a mail with CV layout.”

I rolled my eyes. “Filthy totalitarian creep,” I thought, “Train students to be Pavlov dogs! I’m going to be an anarchist.”

Last time a jobless friend and I went for a drink, she nearly kicked our table over. She received a text message the benefit office hadn’t received her mail with proof she had sent off three job applications that week. Had she applied? If not, she had two days left to do so. If yes, they needed the addresses of her prospective employers so they could call and check she had applied.

Big Brother is monitoring all – and not only by using police surveillance cameras, or google specs.

“Yeah, brilliant. You can even collect all kind of other info too. All the Belgian students are a test group. Yeah, the guy even built-in the possibility to track them using their mobs GPS software. They can be sent specific questions based on location, personal details, personal preferences – the lot.”

By that time, I’d arrived at what a university trainee I once worked with called throttle level. It was not his bleating which caused this urge to strangle him. Like so many similar things, these apps smack of totalitarian regimes.

I calmed down somewhat when I spotted a field of crocuses popping up from under the grass. Are you getting ready to bloom? Will it be this week? No – Are you feeling ill? Did you get your weekly manure? Did you get enough water? Enough sunshine? If not, how come? Was it too cold? Is it too hot? Please click yes/no within 1.6 secs.

The guy started a sales-pitch about some budget having to be freed from some educational project and allocated to purchase the apps for primary, secondary, university.

“Yeah, you pay a fee. The Dutch guy can get the apps programmed, so it’ll suit all schools. That won’t cost much. It’s the Q-A lists; they have to be yes/no. Yeah, after you buy the app and get it reprogrammed, you need to pay a fee per student, kid, patient, whatever.”

“Bingo!” I thought. “Here we go: ICT project and not expensive? And depending on all the info they collect, they’ll charge a fee per user and sell the collected data so the pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, shops, Ministry of Education can target you. It’s just you not getting paid for the use of your personal info.”

The guy got off at a train station. I watched him disappear. He was still extolling the virtue of 24/7 Q-A lists on all mob phones all over the globe. I loath these big brothers. I should ditch my mob, tablet, laptop – whatever. Especially, after the recent Chinese and NSA hacks already dubbed “The Great SIM Heists”. 

And if you’re about to graduate from a Belgian university – especially Louvain or Leuven – I wonder: aren’t you worried about your privacy and your personal info being collected by your VDBA or other Belgian government club? Have you given your consent to be used like a guinea pig? Any idea if all this complies with EU privacy and human rights regulations? Any guarentees your personal info won’t be misused and will be safe? How long will it all be stored? Are you aware you and your private information are being used to line some Dutch guy’s already hefty wallet?


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