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Just a reminder not to be stupid

By April 28, 2010Myth or Reality, News

So, the other night, I was out having a drink with my good friend, Bethany (who is about to be FAMOUS – but more on that later) – when I noticed this guy looking in my direction…and laughing.

Often enough, I think people are out to get me – I think it’s a little-sister-of-two-big-brothers complex –  so I gave him a pointed look and asked him what the hell was so funny.

Of course, he wasn’t looking, or laughing, at me – he was looking at the sanctuary candle with a picture of the last Pope (as in not the current, German one) on it. You see, Bethany had ordered this drink called Holy Water and the ingredients are: Green tea vodka, St. Germaine and lemon juice – with a sanctuary candle on the side. The candle might have a picture of the baby Jesus or the Virgin Mary or, in this case, the Pope. (And the drink is delicious to the max.)

“Oooohhh,” I said. And tried not to look like an asshole.

And then he asked me why I was so grumpy. And I told him that he didn’t know me well enough to call me grumpy. And I said, ‘What if I’m not grumpy? What if this is just my natural state? Wouldn’t you feel like a jerk?”

He said he didn’t think it was my natural state, so he wasn’t worried – and then told me he was grumpy, too. Something about some cowboy at work who goes off and runs wild, gets himself into impossible situations and then needs my new ‘friend’ to help him out – even while he’s on vacation.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I work for AT&T,” he said.

I refrained from saying something nasty, and instead implored, “And what do you do for AT&T?”

And he just gave me this ‘lips sealed’ kind of look.

“What?” I said. And his girlfriend piped up, “He could tell you, but then he’d have to kill you.” Which he didn’t appreciate at all.

And then my earlier refraining was lost. “What? Do you chase after people who leave AT&T for Verizon because of all the dropped calls and break their kneecaps or something?”

He was totally not amused and made several off-color remarks about how I have a big red mappy network thing hanging over my head. “Listen,” he said. “Call someone and say, ‘I’m going to k**l the Pr****ent’ and watch what happens. But don’t really do that, okay? It’s not pretty.” (See, he made me wicked paranoid, I can’t even bring myself to say those words in this post – which is not part of the AT&T network.)

“Are you serious?”


“AT&T listens to phone conversations?”

“…and texts and emails. And it’s not just AT&T, don’t kid yourself. We have it all, everything you’ve sent or typed into your phone.”

I guess I knew this on some level – Patriot Act and all that – but I’ve been busy blocking it out. “I suppose this should make me feel safer.”

“As long as you’re not stupid,” he said. And then he bought us a round of drinks – I’m guessing because he felt guilty for all the eavesdropping…and the dropped calls.

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Siddhartha says:

    A great story well told.

    That’s how I like to start out my day. So, thank you for that.

    I think it’s important to differentiate between individuals listening to our calls, which would be creepy, and computers “listening” for key phrases or specific words.

    Computers don’t care about our embarrassing moments or personal failings; they’re just collecting data.

    There’s certainly reason to be concerned about that. Data collected can be data sorted and categorize and classified into sortable piles of certain “types” of people.

    This can be used to sell us things or deny us opportunities or to subject us to increased scrutiny in the future. So it’s not good. But it’s not someone personally listening to our calls.
    .-= Siddhartha´s last blog ..Failure to Adapt: The Agonizing Death of the Publishing World =-.

  • Jed says:

    That’s downright scary. (The AT&T stuff, not Bethany’s flirtatious moment with the Pope.)

  • Ron Miller says:

    I suggest you read my FierceCM Editor’s Corner today. It’s about never saving data forever. It’s a different context, but the fact is there isn’t enough hard drive space in the world to save all the cell data out there. It’s probably a safer bet that the guy works in AT&T marketing and he’s not very good at it. Of course, nobody is there. ;-)

    .-= Ron Miller´s last blog ..Is Google Giving up On Nexus One =-.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Hmmm…I’m quite certain that was his actual job. He was not a marketer, wasn’t even trying to be. But ;-) back’atcha.

  • Ari Herzog says:

    Not surprising at all. Pay attention to the terms and privacy policies next time you sign up for something. Oh, and private enterprise is not the only one monitoring you:
    .-= Ari Herzog´s last blog ..22 Questions You Asked Me — and My Answers =-.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Why are you all so literal this morning (save Jed) – sheesh.

  • Julie Roads says:

    The point is – that we all mostly know that this is going on (and it has its goods and bads) – but we just don’t think about it. We take for granted that the only people listening are the ones you invite into your conversation.

    Obviously, these networks aren’t sitting around listening to me talk to my friends about what I did last night (and they’re missing out, to be honest) – but still. What we think is closed is not.

    It’s easy to forget…and I was just reminded.

  • Jason says:

    As someone that has a background in surveillance, I can attest to several things:
    1. There are not enough eyes or ears in the WORLD to screen 1% of the voice and text data transferred EVERY SECOND. All they can do is focus on key words/phrases.
    2. The guy in question most likely has more ego than intelligence. Even HINTING at holding such a position to a stranger is most likely a violation of a security/ confidentiality clause he agreed to for employment.
    3. The fact that a HUMAN would handle such MASSIVE amounts of data is both improbable and inefficient. More likely a program based on an algorithm would be doing that job. Software is much more reliable for that job.
    4. If anything, anyone he was sitting with would have been smart enough to just say nothing, unless they are both dolts that deserve to be listed in the “Darwin Awards”.

  • Jason says:

    It is a literal time of year, isn’t it? (National Poetry Month) ;-)

  • Van says:

    You didn’t ply him with free drinks use the truth-serum effect to uncover more juicy secrets?

    Having two older brothers (twins, 5 years my senior) doesn’t make me paranoid, but it does make me very defensive- always had to defend myself when they broke something and blamed it on me!
    .-= Van´s last blog ..Thrift Finds: Sexy Retro Ads =-.

  • Nikki Groom says:

    I vote you call someone and say, ‘I’m going to k**l the Pr****ent’.

    (I didn’t type it out in case the FBI began wasting valuable time and resources scrutinizing your every blog post.)

  • Nikki Groom says:

    (Or AT&T??)

  • Aaron Pogue says:

    Awesome story. You’ve got a knack for getting talked to by jerks.

    (And that’s a reference to Monday’s post, not to my fine fellow commenters here….)

    I know the paranoia angle, though. I spent a year working on a novel that featured a plot to k**l the Pr****ent and required extensive research concerning Camp David. I constantly wondered who was watching.

    Interestingly enough, I’m now working on a series that’s about how awesome our world could be with all-pervasive surveillance. I tell people it’s like 1984, but happy.
    .-= Aaron Pogue´s last blog ..Why You Need a Professional Blog (Part 1) =-.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Aaron – twice in one week, you’re right. Though this one wasn’t really a jerk, just ego-filled. I found him to be quite amusing.

      Can’t wait to read your Happy 1984.

    • Ari Herzog says:

      Did you (attempt to) visit Camp David for the novel? I did… I got as far up the mountain road as the fence before turning around.

  • Srinivas Rao says:

    Damn, I guess I’m going to have to stop my international drug shipment texting :). J/K. Julie, I actually heard about you through Kelly Diels who had nothing but great things to say about you and even referred to you as a “social media genius.” Anytime Kelly recommends somebody to me I check out their blog, so I’m looking forward to going through your archives :).

    .-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..Joe Wilcox On The iPhone 4G Leak at Gizmodo – A Technology Journalist Reviews Both Sides of the Story =-.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Srinivas – Delighted to meet you…any reader of Kelly’s is welcome here. You obviously have impeccable taste. And, yes, please be careful with your texting.

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    Oy, I’d say that I’m switching back to Verizon, but I’m pretty sure they do it, too. Dang is there any place where it’s safe to talk about my balls without the government listening in?
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..The Story of My Journalism Conference =-.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Fortunately, I don’t think they’re trolling for info about ‘balls’…

      But still, the answer to your question is YES – the streets of the West Village, baby.

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