Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Google has found a way to track you even when you’re not online

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In the Matrix sequels, Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith becomes a terrifyingly advanced computer virus that can jam his hand into another person’s chest within the virtual Matrix world and overwrite their thoughts and personality with his own. This gets especially bad for the people in the fictional real world when one of the Smiths is able to exit the Matrix by corrupting a human named Bane, thus allowing him to further his evil plans without having to deal with the limitations of the computer reality. Now, in our actual real world, Google has figured out how to replicate this very specific evil scheme, and much like with Agent Smith, the goal here is to end all life on Earth.

Alright, the goal is actually to help advertisers, but when you can compare a company’s actions to the plot of the Matrix sequels, intent doesn’t really matter. Either way, the BBC is reporting that Google has come up with a system to track whether or not online ads are successful even if you don’t buy anything online (which is basically the same thing as Agent Smith clawing his way out of the Matrix). It’s called Google Attribution, and it basically takes all of the data that Google collects on internet users and combines it with data that mysterious partner companies collect on what people buy in stores with credit cards, effectively creating a way to track people’s behavior when they’re not online.


The reason Google has only now started doing this is because it took until now for the company to be happy with its level of encryption, since it didn’t want anyone else to be able to steal this tracking system and use it for evil—or at least evil that isn’t approved by Google. When the data is shared with advertisers, it’s all aggregated and anonymized, so only Google itself knows who you are, where you live, what ads you see, and what you spend your money on. Basically, it’s like when Agent Smith/Bane hid on Neo’s ship so he could try and kill him before he was able to broker a truce between the machines and the humans, and though Smith failed in that attempt, he was able to blind Neo in the process. Maybe that’s a metaphor for how we’d have to cut off all virtual ties in order to avoid being tracked by Google.

Anyway, it’s worth noting that Google also developed AlphaGo, the dangerously intelligent computer program that is mopping the floor with a human Go champion in China. The Matrix movies never really showed how the war started, but a computer that plays Go and an algorithm that tracks where you shop could’ve been involved.