Your soul is mine

Age of the Geek Column: "There is no knowledge that is not power."

That quote is attributed to the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, though I'll always remember it for flashing up on the title screen of "Mortal Kombat 3."

Whatever the source though, it's true. There is no information, no matter how seemingly trivial, that cannot be used by somebody somewhere for some purpose.

It's a very old piece of wisdom, but one we are very rapidly learning the full extent of as the consequences of the Information Age catch up with us.

We live in an era of unprecedented access to information. So many things in our daily lives are tracked, catalogued, and monitored by algorithms for various purposes.

Target, for instance, tracks the purchase history of their customers and uses an algorithm to send them coupons for products they are likely to buy. It's called "predictive analytics," and it is just a few steps shy of precognition when it comes to identifying and exploiting individual habits. Their algorithm is so sophisticated that it's capable of identifying pregnant customers long before they need to think about shopping for diapers.

If Target has a computer model that can predict your pregnancy based on a customer buying moisturizer and a new purse, imagine what can be done with the vast wealth of information we willingly volunteer over social media.

Even if you've never thought about it before, others certainly have. In the midst of their stunning overreach of microtransactions in "Star Wars: Battlefront II" it was revealed that the company had patented an algorithm that tracks player behavior and adjusts your game experience to subtly encourage you to play longer and spend more money.

More ambitious models include everything from using headset microphones to track everything from your mood to the dimensions of your house. Any information, no matter how trivial, can be used to create a more perfect algorithm.

Like a reverse Santa Claus, it sees you when you're sleeping, it knows when you're awake, it knows when you feel bad or good, and it will adjust the game to manipulate those feelings so that you pay them as much as they can get out of you.

This all seems relatively inconsequential, and for the most part it is, but coupons and targeted marketing is far from the only use this data can be applied to.

This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went in front of Congress to apologize for Facebook's role in allowing foreign entities to influence the 2016 election.

Facebook, more than anything else, is a treasure trove of personal information just waiting to be exploited. Location history, interests, friends, anything you've ever shared with the site is up for grabs by anybody that could get a user to click "I accept" on a personality quiz. While people just wanted to know which house in Hogwarts they'd be sorted into, the personal information of them, and all of their friends, was collected and then shared with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook estimates that data on 87 million users was compromised in this way.

Everything one would need to build psychological profiles on tens of millions of Americans in one handy package. One that can be used to exploit and manipulate them with targeted propaganda.

We can yell at Facebook for not safeguarding our data, but we did this to ourselves.

Remember when we were all paranoid that secret organizations were spying on all of us? That paranoia went out the window when we realized we could show our vacation photos to all of our friends at once.

Now we pay companies to put listening devices in our own homes because they'll change the channel for us or order new lightbulbs.

Just look at how much information we feed into LinkedIn, something that doesn't seem to have a practical use outside of just being something to feed information into.

I'm no exception to this either. I'm well aware that Google tracks my search history, what YouTube videos I watch, and what phone numbers I've called.

It also knows every place I've taken my phone and can draw me a map of my travels. A fact that I use every month when I'm filling out my expense report. It knows where I am and it knows where I've been. It wouldn't take much to figure out where I'm going.

That should worry me, and it does to an extent, but I'm not likely to stop using these services either.

This is the world we live in now. Going "off the grid" isn't a feasible option in the 21st century. Not entirely.

I don't know what the solution is to this problem. None of us do. Social media has changed the world. It is an immense power, larger than anybody ever realized, and we have to deal with all the problems that come with that power on the fly.

Best advice I have is to just stay informed. Be aware of what you're putting out there and be aware of how it could be used.

After all, there is no knowledge that is not power.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and worries CBS's "Person of Interest" was a little too close to the mark.