The Creepy Line is a documentary about the growing influence Google and Facebook have on public opinion. Its title refers to a quote by American businessman and software engineer Eric Schmidt who, when describing Google’s use of personal information, stated that the company did not cross the line that an ordinary user would find unacceptable or creepy.
The documentary compares the notions of visible fake news and invisible ranking or masking of information by Google and Facebook and features interviews with famous industry leaders such as Robert Epstein, Jaron Lanier, Jordan Peterson, and Peter Schweizer.
There is no doubt that by the very same token that people may often be fooled or hoodwinked by Facebook and Google, people may also be deceived and misled by such films as this one. It may appeal to the comforting logic of conspiracy: when something goes wrong in life, it’s because an all-powerful entity thinks you’re important enough to attack.
What we do know is that is gullible and naive, perhaps even irresponsible to believe everything we hear or see in a movie that seems to have come at a convenient time. What we do not know is if it may be naive to ignore its message.
The Creepy Line’s stance is that Google is controlling us by tracking our location history and keeping a log of everywhere we’ve been, where we’ve accessed their services, which ostensibly becomes extra creepy if you have an Android device. It uses data we freely give them such as employment, education, hometown, gender, and birthday, even phone numbers (it is worth noting here how much normality has changed and how willing we now are to give our personal information to a company simply because they ask for it). It uses click tracking to determine what you find interesting by tracking every click we make.
Google also openly offers a free analytics tool for webmasters that allows them to see their website traffic. The film claims that Google then goes on to share that information for their benefit. One decent point made throughout the movie is the idea (now somewhat of an old adage, but still so ignored) that if you are making use of a free product or service, then the chances are that you are the product. Let’s not forget that millions upon millions of us use the free service Gmail, which is an excellent service that is head and shoulders above many other mail programs. Again though, it’s free. All they ask is that they get to read the emails…
Google knows everything we’ve ever searched for. From handbags to televisions to holidays to the nearest medical center as well as the type of medical assistance we are asking about. They know what we want or need before we do, and they do not forget.
With Facebook, it is a similar story; employment, education, hometown, gender, and birthday, are all given freely, even excitedly as we create our accounts. It also tracks, records, and shares every link we’ve clicked while using the service. But unlike Google, Facebook uses its own facial recognition algorithm that knows what we look like and can find us in photos or videos uploaded to their site. It knows whom we connect with and how, it knows who we are and who our friends, family, and loved ones are. They use this information to create look-a-like models to predict how others “like us” think.
There is no denying that Google and Facebook are creepy.
The film claims that the above means have been used to affect politics. It claims to explain how Google manipulated the 2016 US election (to no avail) and continues to suppress political ideas, namely those which carry a conservative tone. If this were true, it would be, at best, a modern day form of a political survey, used to create demagoguery. At worst, it would be a vile form of propaganda. It is not, however, the first time we have heard such things. The idea that Google and Facebook are censoring American conservatives is no new one; we have all seen President Trump’s furiously-typed tweets speaking out against much of the same. What the movie does is propagate this suspicion. Under the guise of giving scientific fact and analysis, the documentary does appear short-sighted and anecdotal at times. One example would be when the film speaks of a mood study carried out by Facebook. The results of the study filled users’ news feeds with either positive or negative posts. It is disturbing, creepy, and it’s not nice. However, this is where we must admit that the movie shoots itself in the foot by going on to claim that “it appears” some young people may have “done harm to themselves” because of it. It’s a huge claim to make, and one which will affect many people, and it is not backed up by anything. Sure, they were creepy, but to embellish it in such a way is irresponsible and seems a little desperate.
One negative we can’t help but notice is that the film uses Facebook and Google far too interchangeably, like a common villain as such, almost as if alluding to one higher power.
However, both Google and Facebook indeed have connections with surveillance programs such as PRISM, and in this context can be seen as working to the same end.
The movie is not perfect. It does carry a conspiracy theorist tone. We should not ignore this any more than the information that it provides. It is current and may well be interesting, bringing to light some genuinely creepy and unwelcome behavior by companies. Due to their size, these companies have to act in a more responsible way than any others. It must also be viewed with some suspicion, however.