Online Surfing Danger Ahead!

Beware of Bots!

Surfing Danger Ahead

There’s surfing danger ahead! Not in the water, but online. Take a quick look at an ad for an anti-aging skin cream, and that product will haunt you on the Internet until you die and decompose.

Blink your eye and consider a brief fling with glitter eyeliner, as I did earlier this summer, and you are forever branded as part of David Bowie’s glam squad!

Peruse a winter white wool turtleneck sweater in January, and come July, you’ll still get urgent notices to “Hurry, there’s only one still in stock!!”

Five years ago, amid a foot problem, I considered buying orthotic heel lifts. Thankfully, the foot problem resolved itself, but orthotic ads track me on the Worldwide Web as diligently as sharks stalk their prey.

Windsor Central NOT

And it’s not just online bot ad stalkers that vex me. It’s my web-based reading choices that track and “type” me as well. Read a couple of articles on a certain topic and suddenly your computer thinks that’s all you care about.

I scanned a few Meghan Markle-Prince Harry Royal Wedding stories and suddenly the e-bots think I’m Windsor Central. It’s Prince William this, Kate that. Queen Elizabeth here, Prince Charles there. It’s exhausting and it’s just not me. Honestly and no offense, dear Royals, I’m just not that into you!

Even my beloved New York Times has misinterpreted my reading interests, falsely labeling me a light-weight, an idler, a ne’er do well.

NYT Betrayal

The problem began because I read The Times both online and in print. I read the news and business sections, aka “the serious stuff,” in the print edition at the breakfast table. Then, late at night, when I’m tired and in the mood for lighter fare, I read the Style, Entertainment, and Food sections online.

And, just as the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand does, so, it seems The Times bots don’t know about my serious print-edition reading habits. “They” don’t “see” me reading and pondering the news and opinions of the day. “They” only know about my fun-time relaxation-time reading.

The result? “They” label me a cream puff. Just a few days ago, right there on the home page of my electronic paper was the proof. It “innocently” stared up at me under the seemingly benign heading of stories “Recommended for You.”

Eight of the 10 recommended stories were entertainment-related: five about TV shows; three about live theatre, and one sports-related. Just one recommendation reflected the “intellectual,” professional me – a report about non-profit organizations struggling financially.

Not one recommendation was about foreign policy! Not one recommendation related to science, domestic policy, politics or philosophy – the stuff I read, I mean really read The New York Times for each and every day of my life!

Surfing Danger Ahead

Now you may wonder why I care so much about this “Recommended for You” list? You may think it is a non-issue, but au contraire!

For me, this matter matters a lot. It is a personal injury lawsuit waiting to happen worthy of litigation for all the pain and suffering it is causing!

I grew up on The New York Times. My parents read the paper every day. No matter what else was going on, there was always time for The Times.

As an adult, I continued the family devotion to The Times, always subscribing to it, no matter what city or state I lived in.

The New York Times is as much a part of my identity as my name, my family, my marriage, my everything. That’s why this goofy “Recommended for Moi” list matters.

Call the Complaint Department?

I thought of calling the paper to complain, but that seemed a non-starter. Nowadays you can’t even talk to a human to complain about a missed or damaged newspaper. Everything is done online. So, I faced two options: resign myself to this homepage shaming (which I acknowledge is visible only to me) or fight the man, I mean bot. Since I could not let the matter go, I was left with Option Two: fight.

Scam the Bot

My fight took the form of an e-scam. Now, late at night, with the lights on low, Handsome Hubby snoring beside me, I surreptitiously open and email highbrow articles to myself. I may have already read the articles in the morning. I may not even be interested in the articles. All I care about is looking wonky and wise to The Times bot.

The other night, I emailed 12 (!) articles to myself including:

  •  “Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Leaving The Atlantic”
    I’ve never read anything by this noted intellectual, but since I want the bot to think of me as an intellectual, it seemed an ideal pick.
  • “Getting Real about Periods, Childbirth, Menopause and More”
    This article I really do want to read, mostly because I’m worried about the “More” part of the headline. There’s “more” than periods, childbirth and menopause? What don’t I know? Now I’m worried and cannot sleep.
  • “How to Fix your Sad and Sluggish Sperm”
    While Handsome Hubby and I are long past the days of worrying about sperm counts (or speed), I was admittedly curious. Are the little guys sad because they’re sluggish or are they sluggish because they’re sad?

I confess, even though my intentions are to tap into intellectual material, my baser instincts do sometimes take over. I could not resist reading “‘Love Island’ and the Sexual Anxieties of Modern Britain” and I got positively giddy over a story entitled “Giddy Up, Girlfriend!”

And That’s Not All

I also read “How to have Sex in a Canoe,” but, in my defense, I don’t think that qualifies as low-brow. Instead, it seems sound scientific inquiry. After all, with global warming and sea levels rising, sex in a canoe may turn out to be valuable, indeed an essential to the continuation of mankind skill!

I admit emailing a dozen stories to myself at midnight was a bit of overkill, but please note, I did exercise some restraint. I did not include even one article about the economy, because let’s face it, there are limits to even a bot’s credibility. No bot or body would ever be fooled into thinking I read about trade deficits or trade wars. The only economic news I care about is the latest gift-with-purchase cosmetic company offer!

No Bot’s Fool

Imagine how upset I was to discover that my scam isn’t working. In fact, I think The Times bot is onto me. It’s gotten pretty preachy lately. One day recently four of the 10 recommended articles related to food, exercise, weight, and aging. A fifth article was an obituary for someone I never heard of. Ouch!

No Relief in Sight

And, of course, the ad stalkers continue to hound me. They follow me on Facebook, in my newsfeeds, on Google, and in urgent emails. They “miss” me, they claim, and flatter me – “Hi beautiful, we haven’t seen you in a while.” And that’s not all. They offer me discounts and bargains. Free shipping too. They suggest “curated gift purchases – just for me” and exhort me to “buy it again with just one click.”

And, of course, all that marketing and attention is effective. Yesterday was a foggy, chilly day in Berkeley. So, I tried ordering that winter white turtleneck sweater I had looked at back in January. Sadly I was too late. The last one was gone. I cannot say I wasn’t warned. Repeatedly.

Meanwhile, I wish I could figure out a way to get the same level of nonstop personalized attention I do from the nameless online bots from Handsome Hubby and my kids! Now that would truly be something! At the very least, I wish somebody would explain to middle-aged me how to shield my product-surfing history from the bots. Then, I could late-night online window shop ’til my eyelids drop!

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2 replies
  1. Andrea Serra
    Andrea Serra says:

    This was your cleverest entry yet! I’m sure you do know that you can web browse anonymously with an incognito window or simply log out of your Google account before you surf. This is why I refuse to have a google account. Our computer bots must think that my husband is a cross-dresser as it is usually logged into his account when I am on it.


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