Email Phone

Robots are taking over our email!

My colleague’s email was straightforward: “Where is this in the document?

What happened next is bothersome to me. My inbox read this email.

And then it offered some suggested replies:

Report inappropriate text

It turns out my email robot is quite passive aggressive!

Whilst I don’t appreciate the snark – I’ll come up with my own pithy responses, thank you very much! – I’m also more than a little concerned that some sort of AI algorithm is reading the contents of my emails and coming up with suggested replies.

It’s happening in both my outlook and my Gmail inboxes.

In addition, Gmail has launched “smart compose”, which offers up suggested phrases and words while you’re in the middle of typing. As one user wrote on Twitter: “Gmail’s new auto-complete feature is like a tiny ghost racing to finish your email before you can, and it’s rather distracting/unhelpful.”

As if these “advancements” were not enough, there’s more news from the tech data vault. Did you know, for instance, that when you have the Facebook app installed on your phone, you are giving it permission to access all the data on your phone – including your microphone?

It can hear you speak. It may not be listening to you 24/7 yet, but it could if it wanted to.

And don’t even get me started about the creepiness that is targeted advertising on social media… if digital adds are starting to feel psychic to you, it’s probably because they are getting way too detailed. Advertisers have access to data on you that you probably don’t even know about yourself.

It’s all getting a bit too much, but I fear that we’ve gone past the point of no return? It’s like global warning: we’re caught in a tsunami of decision-makers making choices that they don’t know the full consequences of.

All we can do about it at this stage is switch off these features, before they become “mandatory”.

So that’s what I’m doing. Because smart replies and AI-generated responses may shave a second or two off our reply rates – but at what cost?

Hospital

Private health insurance – a must-have or a rort?

Roy Morgan has been measuring the attitudes of health fund members over the years, and unsurprisingly, they’ve found that consumers are getting fed up.

There’s been a big decline over the last four years in the number of people with private health insurance who consider it to be essential. In 2014, nearly two thirds (65.8%) of fund members agreed that ‘it is essential to have private health insurance’. Each year since then it has declined to the current level of 56.9% in August 2018.

That’s just over half of all Australians who are paying for access to private health cover, who are not even really sure they value it.

I definitely fall into this camp. I’ve had private health insurance for more than 15 years. When I got my first policy back then, it was $90 per month for full coverage for my partner and I as a couple.

A decade and a half later, we’re on mid-level coverage – the kind that doesn’t cover any big ticket items, like knee surgery or pregnancy – and we’re paying $350 per month.

I enquired with my health insurance just this morning actually, to see how much it would cost to increase our insurance to cover some of the more expensive procedures. My husband, approaching his mid-40s, is at that age where some of these issues may become, well, an issue for him in the future!

I was gobsmacked to discover that upping our healthcare to top hospital cover would bump our premium up by another $200 per month, or $2400 per year.

It’s got me scratching my head. Who has a spare $550 per month to pay for health insurance – which, let’s remember, you have to pay to use, as there’s a $500 excess if you want to actually make a hospital claim?

And do we really need to place this much value on health insurance when we live on the Gold Coast, with access to arguably one of the best hospitals in Australia – the $2bn Gold Coast University Hospital?

I truly don’t know whether private health insurance is a must-have or a rort.

What I do know is that my premiums have increased 400% increase in just 15 years. If they keep increasing at this level, it will soon become unaffordable to my family, as we can’t justify an average doubling in premiums every 3.5 years. If only property prices increased at this rate!

Hands

Two daughters, a world apart

Last week, my daughter had her birthday. She turned eight, and we celebrated by showering her with love and affection, whipping up a big pancake breakfast, and festooning her with toys and cards.

It was such a lovely day, celebrating yet another milestone with my eldest daughter.

But it was a little bittersweet for me, as I had just finished reading this New York Times story about a seven-year-old girl called Amal.

Amal will never celebrate her 8th birthday. A citizen of Yemen, a country that is in the grips of a Saudi Arabian-influence famine, Amal was photographed for the NY Times in a piece designed to draw attention to the horrific humanitarian crisis.

In the photos, it was clear that Amal was dying of starvation. Her haunted eyes fell into sunken cheeks, and her ribcage protruded. Be warned: the images are shocking and devastating. But they are important, because the Western world is largely ignoring Yemen.

The country has been plunged into famine after Saudi Arabia launched a war there in 2015. More than one million Yemenis have since believed to have been infected with cholera, which the World Health Organisation has called “the worst cholera outbreak in the world.”

The country is in dire need of attention and support.

A few days after Amal’s photo was published in the Times, she died. It wasn’t peaceful. She was wracked with pain, and sent home from a hospital that could do no more to help her; and, they needed the bed for new patients.

“My heart is broken,” her mother, Mariam, wept to the journalist over the phone.

There I was, celebrating my vibrant, healthy daughter, while Mariam was mourning the loss of her sick, starving child of the same age.

Nothing separates us as mothers, except for sheer luck. I am lucky enough to be in Australia, where my kids were born into a country of 25 million people that boasts healthcare, food security and economic prosperity. She is unlucky enough to live in Yemen, a country of 25 million people, where literally more than half of its residents are currently starving to death.

To help, visit CARE Australia and join their efforts: “We are doing everything possible,” they pledge, “to ensure children and families have something to eat by distributing food and cash, often in hard-to-reach areas.”

Police Line Do Not Cross

What have we become?

I’m grateful for many things that we take for granted on the Gold Coast: fresh running water piped directly into our homes, an abundance of food, a solid community with plenty of safety nets for people who get left behind.

What I’m most eternally grateful for, however, is the fact that my children will never know what an active shooter drill is.

We don’t have the gun culture or the access to deathly weapons here that they have in the United States, and for that, I am beyond thankful.

News out of the US this morning has confirmed another mass shooting. As of now, 12 innocent people have been reported killed after a former marine opened fire in a bar in California.

A broken man who fought in a broken war, returned to his home in the United States unable to cope with civilian life. He manifested his pain into rage and channelled it into this act of cowardice – a tragic decision that will go on to destroy countless families.

Watching this footage of a dad who just moments earlier confirmed his eldest son, a 22-year-old, was one of the victims, is beyond heartbreaking. No parent should endure losing a child this way… It’s difficult to watch. His pain is palpable; it took my breath away.

It’s even more difficult to comprehend the fact that this is the first mass shooting of innocent people in America in… 12 days.

Not a typo. It’s been just 12 days since a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

No one is safe from gun violence in the US. Going to church, having a drink in a bar, even sending your children to school is something residents there have to do without having full confidence in their own personal safety. It’s unimaginable to fathom living this way.

Technology is catching up with these horrific acts – when I googled for more information, this SOS alert popped up.

As the news trends on Twitter, I’ve been following the reaction, and actor Leah Remini’s comment sums it up best: “This kind of pain… heart wrenching. What have we become?”

Facebook

Why targeted Facebook ads should worry you

You know Facebook is tracking you, right?

Most of us know that it’s no secret why we see the exact advertisements that we see on Facebook and Instagram. Obviously, the social media platforms leverage their data to put the right ads in front of the right eyeballs.

It makes sense to put an advert for baby clothes in front of a new mother; dresses in front of a 20-something socialite; sporting goods in front of a footy-mad dad. Right?

But what about when it gets a little murkier?

For instance: how do you feel about Facebook and Instagram offering casino deals to the email addresses of people suspected of having a gambling addiction?

Or putting expensive gamer ads in front of teenagers?

According to a new report on Gizmodo, the ways in which these social media giants are profiting from our data is staggering.

Now, I’ve had this conversation IRL before, and people don’t seem to care. “Oh, I’m not hiding anything, I don’t care if they have my phone number or email address,” they’ll say.

But I reckon you should care, because this is about so much more than them knowing your email address.

Facebook and Instagram can sell or leverage lists of all of your information – phone numbers, email and postal addresses, age, birthday, marital status, income data, spending habits, browsing behavior, everything – to advertisers.

In practice, they will let an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file, and Facebook will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information. Say you’ve bought a top from Brand A in the past, and it has your email address. You can now expect custom ads from that Brand. Facebook calls this a “custom audience.”

Think you can get around it with a dummy email account – the one you use with advertisers or mailings list to avoid clogging your regular inbox? Well, the data profile they have compiled on you likely includes your dummy email, along with your physical work address, how frequently you eat out, how much you spend on groceries, the date you last updated your car…

Even if you don’t have social media, you still have a rich and robust profile, thanks to other people sharing your data. It’s called shadow profiling.

If this is how far we’ve come in the last decade, imagine where we’ll be in 10 years from now?

We say “we don’t care”. The truth is, we don’t care enough.