by Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London
The 1983 hit song by the Police “Every breath you take” is up there in the top 100 pop songs ever. It seems a charming love song, and some couples even treat it as “their” song, playing it for the first dance at their wedding. Some of the lyrics “Every single day…I’ll be watching you”, if in a loving relationship, might be a good and positive thing. As the Police’s Sting has said though, the lyrics are about exactly the opposite.
It is being sung by a man obsessed with his former girlfriend. He is singing a threat. It is about sinister stalking and surveillance, about nasty use of power by a deranged man over a woman who once loved him.
Reclaim the Internet
Back in 1983 the web barely existed, but what the song describes is now happening every day, with online stalking, trolling and other abuse a big problem. What starts in the virtual world, we now see, spills over into the real world, too. This is one reason why we need to Reclaim the Internet and why online privacy is important. We must all call out online abuse. Prosecuters need to treat it seriously. Social media companies need to find ways to prevent abusive content being posted and remove it quickly. They need easier ways for us to protect our privacy and to know it is protected. They need to be up for the challenge.
Reclaim your privacy
The lyrics fit our lives in another way too, about another kind of relationship. When we click those unreadable consent forms for using a new app, we give permission for the technology companies that we love so much to watch over us. They follow the song as a matter of course (in a loving way they say). They are “watching you” as you keep your gadgets on you “every single day”; “every night you stay” online you are recorded along with anyone you are with online; they watch “every move you make” (physically with location aware devices and virtually, noting every click, every site visited, everything you are interested in they know from your searches); “every step you take” (recorded by your fitness tracker); and “every breath you take” (by your healthcare app); “every bond you break” is logged (as you unlike friends and as you leave websites never to go back); “every game you play” (of course), “every word you say” (everything you type is noted, but the likes of Alexa also record every sound too, shipping your words off to be processed by distant company servers). They really are watching you.
Let’s hope the companies really are loving and don’t turn out to have an ugly underside, changing personality and becoming abusive once they have us snared. Remember their actual aim is to make money for shareholders. They don’t actually love us back. We may fall out of love with them, but by then they will already know everything about us, and will still be watching every move we make. Perhaps you should not be giving up your privacy so freely.
You belong to me?
We probably can’t break our love affair, anyway. We’ve already sold them our souls (for nothing much at all). As the lyrics say: “You belong to me.”