By Ryan McMaken
The Creepy Line, a new documentary by director M.A. Taylor, is now streaming at Amazon Prime. It takes a disturbing look at how Google and Facebook influence their users’ view of the world, and how the companies have pioneered new ways of doing business. It’s a business model in which personal data harvested from users is exploited so as to offer targeted advertising to third parties.
The Creepy Line takes its title from a description of Google once uttered by Google executive Eric Schmidt who said Google’s mission was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
In truth, though, by pioneering the “surveillance business model,” Google has been been stepping over “the creepy line” for years.
Is is perhaps in its basic explanations of how the surveillance model works that The Creepy Line is most interesting: the filmmakers explain in simple terms how a small number of companies have come to compile extensive data profiles of many hundreds of millions of human beings, and how that data is the real product sold and used by the companies that collect it.
This, of course, has always been the plan, although it was arguably much more modest at one time.
The Surveillance Model
There’s a lot of money to be made by helping advertisers target specific potential customers. But first you need a lot of data on the people you’re targeting. Successful tech giants can offer this data — and huge amounts of it.
In order to offer advertisers data on potential customers, though, a company first has to collect it. And in order to collect it, the company must offer some sort of bait for the users to seize upon, thus leaving behind their personal data. Over the past 20 years, Google and Facebook have perfected the art of convincing users to trade online services for their personal data. And the companies’ capabilities have expanded with time.
For example, in the early days, if internet users didn’t use the Google search engine to access a web site, Google didn’t know about it. Users had to use Google’s site in order to be tracked.