Surveillance Surprise: Proof #76,857 that Someone is Watching

Like a lot of folks, I took some time off for Christmas and didn’t write much for a couple of days. So I completely forgot to write about the Big Brother moment we had Christmas day.

We had a little surveillance surprise, showing once again that our social media audience isn’t always what we think it is.

You think you aren’t being watched? Think again.

Christmas Presents and a Surveillance Surprise

Bright and early Christmas morning, Jon handed me a present. He was extremely proud of himself.

He should have been. It was a …Honeywell RTH6580WF Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat

There are at least 4 things of note about Jon giving me a programmable thermostat for Christmas:

  • We’re trying to work on our power consumption and converting to the R-TOU (Time of Use) program means trying to heat and cool the house during cheaper off-peak times. We really need the new thermostat as part of that program.
  • He got it on special: $30 off!
  • He paid for it completely with gift cards, so he paid nothing out of pocket.
  • The first year we were together, that practical guy I married gave me a programmable thermostat for Valentine’s Day. It saved us a bunch of money in my old house. That was how he argued that it really WAS a romantic present, since it freed up the cash to go out to eat and do other romantic stuff.

So, the programmable thermostat was a thoughtful and needed present, but also one that also made me laugh.

I took a picture of the thermostat, and as you can see, it turned out to be a neat picture, reflecting the lights from the Christmas tree. So, I sent out a Tweet:

It's a new thermostat! Thanks, Santa!

It was a nice holiday picture with a short message. If you’re a Personal Finance blogger, it’s not that unusual to celebrate a programmable thermostat under the Christmas tree. Yay, Frugality!

And that would have been the end of it, except that 5 hours later, we got a reply:

Honeywell answer

“But Can the People on TV See Me or am I Just Paranoid?”

Ok, look again at my tweet. The thermostat is a Honeywell, and I think they are a fine maker of thermostats. This is our third Honeywell thermostat. But I wasn’t actually trying to promote Honeywell.

Did I mention Honeywell? Nope. No #Honeywell hashtag or shoutout to @Honeywell_Home included.

Honeywell is clearly written on the box, though, and in 5 hours someone at the company had noticed my picture and tweet, despite the fact that I had a modest Twitter following of 181 and it was Christmas day.

Someone replied.

Someone was watching.

Ok, it was probably some photo recognition software watching, but that didn’t make it any less surprising when it came up in my Twitter feed.

Now, I don’t think Honeywell’s tweet in and of itself is really a problem. Again, I’m happy enough to own and talk about their product, which I think is a fine one. (this is not an affiliate post, but I’m open to discussing offers.)

Honeywell’s reply was a surprise. I got a surveillance surprise for Christmas, and it reminded me that sharing may be caring, but it’s also broadcasting to the world.

Jon, Emily, and Social Media

Jon doesn’t do social media. Oh, he’ll write for the blog, and read my Facebook feed if I hand him my phone or tablet. He’ll reply to comments here. But you won’t find my Jon Jividen on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. (You will find a chef with the same exact name, though.)  My Jon doesn’t want to overshare, so I can’t even convince him to set up a Facebook account and just never post and read stuff in his news feed.

I like social media. You will find me active on Facebook, Twitter, and (to a lesser degree) Linked In and Google Plus. I use Pinterest, Bloglovin and Flipboard. I like connecting with cousins and high school friends I don’t see anymore and learning more about the lives of people I know from only one context like school or church. I also like connecting to the personal finance blogger community, and promoting my work and good articles I find elsewhere.

Rare is a day with no tweets and no Facebook posts.

Jon wants me to be careful with the information I share on the blog. You won’t see any income reports on our blog, and to respect his feelings sometimes I will be more vague or general than I would otherwise be in discussing our personal lives and finances. I try not to mention our daughter by name, and I will probably never use any of the many online financial tools you see some personal finance bloggers use.

Jon just isn’t comfortable having financial information online accessible. Even our personal balance sheets are stored on a flash drive instead of our computer’s hard drive. If it’s not connected to the internet, it’s a lot harder to hack.

Jon wants me to be careful with what I share on Facebook too. For a long time, the only picture of our daughter on Facebook was one of just her legs sticking out of a cardboard box.

Sometimes, I think he’s a little overly cautious. After all, we’re nobodies. Who cares what we do or say? What does it matter if I put a particularly cute picture of Little Bit jumping into a mud puddle on Facebook, visible only to friends.

And then we get a little surveillance surprise like at Christmas. And I realize that our audience for social media is the world, even if you are only sharing with friends, because what’s to keep them from sharing your photo or status? And, as a blogger who wants people to share the content I work so hard to create, I have some competing priorities about sharing and protecting my information.

I want to share what I want to share, and protect everything else. That’s a lot harder in practice, because, as my little Honeywell tweet proves, sometimes you are sharing more than you think you are sharing.

So have you ever had a surveillance surprise where what you realized your audience was much larger than you first thought or that you were sharing more information than intended? How do you balance sharing and protecting your information? 

Top Image courtesy of Pong at

This article includes affiliate links.

Disease Called Debt


16 thoughts on “Surveillance Surprise: Proof #76,857 that Someone is Watching

  1. If it makes you feel any better, the Honeywell tweet would’ve creeped me out a bit too.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised to find out who’s following/reading the blog. (Except when I go to FinCon and meet bloggers who read me. I know it’s ridiculous because I see the stats each day of how many people visit, but I’m still surprised when I find out a relatively well-known blogger has heard of, and sometimes even reads, me.)
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…Read me, see me, cheer with meMy Profile

  2. Wow, that is kind of amazing and a little bit creepy. I mean the company has good intentions and all, but what if they didn’t? I know exactly what you mean about balancing the information you not only want to share, but to promote, and the information you want to keep private. In one of my recent posts, I was going to include a photo of myself that was funny. But taken in the wrong context (sorry, can’t really be more specific), it could be damaging and I was concerned about where that photo might end up. Certainly we’ve heard stories of social media photos being appropriated for advertisements and other purposes. Unfortunately not everyone out there has good intentions.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…19 Tips to Save Money on Groceries Every MonthMy Profile

    • There are definitely some photos that stay on my hard drive, because despite their amusement or sentimental value, they can be taken the wrong way or have something in the background that might tell more about us than I’d want, even if it’s just that we’re not always the most careful of housekeepers.

  3. That’s almost entirely why I blog anonymously. Not because I think my photos or work would be misappropriated by a company (though Gary makes a REALLY good point!), but because if there is one thing 12-year-olds excel at…it’s the interwebs! Last year, I got a flurry of notifications from The Knot, the company who designed our wedding website. Even though we had been married for over a year and had taken down most of the pages on our wedding website, my students found the guest book and started signing it! I can only imagine how many commenters I’d have every day if they knew about my blog 😛
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies recently posted…E-Funds & Anchors: The Cheapest $600 Ever SpentMy Profile

    • I hadn’t really thought about how strange it must be for students to be able to know a bunch of personal non-school stuff about their teachers with only a little digging. I graduated high school in 1986, and we knew very little about our teachers unless we happened to be friends with one of their kids. I can’t imagine what might have happened if we had caught hold of their college photos or a tweet on the town. But my daughter’s teacher’s twitter feed is full of pictures of the classroom as well as her home and social life. Now the K-kids mostly just want to see if their own pictures show up, but I can imagine that might change as the kids get older.

  4. That is defiantly strange that Honeywell picked up your tweet without a hashtag. I wonder if the are reading this post and comments now. I think I’ll keep my comment short. 🙂
    Brian @DebtDiscipline recently posted…I’ve LandedMy Profile

    • LOL, I did think about that, but it would probably be good for Honeywell to see that their friendly gesture (and I do think that was how it was intended) was also seen as disturbing.

  5. Definitely a creep out moment! It’s so hard as a blogger to find the balance between being authentic, yet not letting too much info get out into the big wide world.

    My hubby isn’t comfy with me putting too much financial info out there, but we decided that speaking on my blog in percentages was a good compromise for us.

    On the other hand, I would hate to give up social media. I’ve “met” so many awesome people through it!
    Jamie @ Medium Sized Family recently posted…5 Ways We’ve Saved Money This Week 18My Profile

    • The percentage method probably is a good compromise for sharing while staying private with your financial information while sharing your story and what works. So far, Jon and i haven’t decided on a unified approach. but we probably should. With expenses, we’ve used some real numbers, like with our grocery budget. With income, assets and liabilities, we’ve usually kept to vague generalities.

  6. Ick I feel the same way. I finally got a Facebook page but only have like 2 friends because it’s literally only so I can have my blogs page. Which might be why that page is not flourishing lol . But no pics of my kids, or mentions of their names. Rarely a photo of me, and even then no face shots. This world is a scary place, and while I want to promote content, I don’t want to promote my life.
    FF @ Femme Frugality recently posted…Your Chakras and Your MoneyMy Profile

    • It would be nice if we could control who saw what easily. It does seem like even when we weren’t posting our daughter’s pictures, we would find schools, friends and relatives putting pictures up though they didn’t usually use her name.

  7. It’s truly amazing how creepy social media can come off. In reality, only truly amazing hackers could run photo-recognition software, and produce a tweet like that. (I’m thinking like Felicity Smoak on the Arrow)

    If you’re wondering from a business intelligence perspective how these things typically happen, Honeywell follows key phrases and not just hashtags. Apparently thermostat is one that they monitor closely. From there tweets get grouped into three buckets:

    Auto-respond positive (ie somebody has used a #Honeywell or @Honeywell with positive sentiment with 99% accuracy)
    Auto-respond negative (ie somebody has used #Honeywell or @Honeywell with negative sentiment with 99% accuracy, and Honeywell needs to save face and will do so immediately and automatically)
    Manual response (no # or @, but will undergo review and a team of people will push out canned responses as they see fit.)

    You fell into the third bucket, and got a little creeped out because honestly, its weird… it’s a bunch of algorithms and then people making judgement calls about how to respond. Personally, I just want airlines to respond to me if I tweet them about they’re crappy service.

    • Thanks for the info, Hannah. It does make sense that they were following thermostat (which is less creepy than the photo software, but still).

  8. On facebook, you think you’re just sharing with family & friends, but do you notice the running sidebar that shows what your fb friends are liking or commenting on? When you hover over that, it takes you to pics and statuses of people you don’t even know. So all our info on fb is really not that private after all. It amazes me when I see people posting while on away on trips, thus informing a bunch of strangers that no one is home, making your house a target for break-ins. Also not a good idea to show off expensive gifts too. I think your hubby is showing some smart thinking. Also, when our kids are old enough to get their own fb accounts one day and check ours out, I wonder how they’ll feel seeing pics of their childhood for all to see, when they had no choice in the matter.

    • Yeah, we try to be a little vague about vacation pictures and post them after we get back home. No need to broadcast that you’re out of town too much.

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