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updated: 10/17/2013 5:29 AM

The Internet thinks it knows you, but is it right?

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  • Since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posed for this photo at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2007, his creation knows a lot more personal information about the rest of us.

      Since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posed for this photo at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2007, his creation knows a lot more personal information about the rest of us.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • Video: Internet privacy? Not so much

 
 

I am not the man the Internet thinks I am.

For a guy who gets my name and mug shot in the newspaper and writes columns about myself and my family from time to time, I really am a private person. I generally don't join online groups or clubs. I rarely share personal information. When websites make me type in my birthday or ask for my pet's name or the street where I grew up, I make up stuff.

You haven't read any Facebook posts from me about what drink I'm ordering at Starbucks or seen me tweet my opinion on the annoying customer in front of me. Part of that stems from a columnist mentality.

I'd hate to write one decent observation about a meaningless topic, only to realize later that I might have been able to milk that thought for an entire column, such as this one.

Every time I hop on the old World Wide Web to take in Facebook, Twitter, check out a sports score or play Lexulous with my wife, the Internet thinks I need stuff and provides the advertising to help me find it. Months ago, I searched online for an affordable, backyard soccer goal for our 14-year-old son. I found one. End of story.

But the Internet just won't let it go.

Every time it sees me online, the Internet chimes in with suggestions about where to get deals on soccer balls, what soccer shoes I need and even tries to sell me the same soccer goals I rejected while buying the only one I probably ever will buy.

"Hey, it's soccer boy," the Internet seems to say whenever it notices me. "I bet you need this bag of orange cones, eh? Am I right or what?"

The Internet is like a bully. A kid gets caught picking his nose on his first day of sixth grade, and then the bully calls him "booger" for the rest of his middle school career. The Internet never forgets.

There is more to me than my momentary obsession with a soccer goal -- unfortunately. I recently did online column research on a Catholic church group that preaches abstinence until marriage. For weeks after that, CatholicMatch.com tempted me with photos of clean-cut, earnest-looking young women with super white teeth. I know the new pope seems far less judgmental than the old pope, but that doesn't give the Internet a pass for encouraging happily married men to start dating young Catholic women.

After a few weeks of me not clicking on any of the profiles pitched my way, the Internet decided to send me ads from the more generic ChristianMingle.com. When I didn't click on any of those women, the Internet sent me one with a bald guy proclaiming, "Jesus Christ is Lord." Eventually, the Internet gave up on using religion to woo me, and now sends me enticements from online dating sites apparently favored by heathens. Most of the "Meet Interested Women" models are young enough to be my daughters. I notice the ads never say, "Meet Interesting Women."

My wife, who is not quite three years younger than I, sometimes is subjected to similar dating ads. But the men in her ads look like those handsome, fit men with the salt-and-pepper hair who throw footballs through tire swings and love outdoor bathtubs in TV commercials for erectile dysfunction cures. There is not a 22-year-old in the bunch. That gender double standard ticks off my feminist side. My wife just shrugs this off as small potatoes compared to other gender-based injustices.

Perhaps thinking that my reluctance to click on a dating ad was fueled solely because I recognize the absurdity of a 22-year-old woman wanting to date a guy like me, the Internet recently gave me a come-on featuring the usual buxom woman half my age in a provocative pose while pleading, "No skinny guys."

Really? Has the Internet been Skyping with my bathroom scale? Is it saving my hair loss for a later pitch? Will it eventually send forth a gorgeous supermodel moaning, "Why can't I find a 55-year-old guy who is overweight, baldish, has a cool name like 'Burt' and doesn't get caught up in the pretension of ironing his shirts or keeping his shoes shined?"

Suspecting my reluctance for adultery stems from a physical problem, the Internet tries to fix me. It sends me an ad with a young, busty blond (the kind the Internet used to attempt to fix me up with) pitching the "unlikely testosterone booster" that "helps you feel young again." I don't bite.

Now, the Internet seems to have decided I am no longer occupied with the interests of vibrant folk. The ads I see now are about my $500k+ retirement portfolio (whatever that is) and estate planning. I'd click on them, but I am afraid the Internet will send that information to some buxom 22-year-old who envisions a brief marriage to me ending in my mysterious death that leaves her with an inheritance enabling her and her skinny, young, religious boyfriend to buy all the soccer equipment they desire.

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