Creating Responsible Netizens

Big Brother is Watching……. December 2, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 5:17 am


Okay, moving on – the last two. Here they are again for reference:

  • At school, you research online for a project using or to find information.
  • Throughout the afternoon while “doing your homework”, you check Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other social networks.

Google has been under a lot of scrutiny lately for doing sketchy things. Google collects the searches that users make, ending up with a huge database that is a goldmine. They can use these searches to improve their search algorithm, and see how much they can charge advertisers (which they arguably have a monopoly over, but that’s for another day). While they claim that they don’t attach personal data to these searches, there’s still the threat of your name being attached to your searches. I recall reading an article where Google’s database was revealed; Google was quick to point out that there wasn’t a name next to searches, but often times people would search for their own names, and it was a relatively simple process to pair the names and search terms together.

Like Google, Facebook has also accumulated a wealth of information about its users. When you click “like” for certain movies, books, interests, and activities, they are able to use that data to sell you targeted advertising. If you don’t use AdBlock, it’s likely you’ve seen ads that are creepily relevant; I remember a while back I saw an ad with something along the lines of “Loveless in Lamont?” advertising a dating site (Lamont is one of Harvard’s libraries). Recently I was doing some research for The Harvard Crimson on advertising, and Facebook allows advertisers to fine tune their targets to a ridiculous extent. I encountered options for networks, education, class years, age, etc. that traditional print advertising would never have control over.

Facebook also has the ability to track you on other sites, even if you’re logged out. For example, if you visit a website where Facebook login is activated, Facebook is able to see that you’ve visited that site. Luckily, some coders took matters into their own hands and wrote an Adblock extension that prevents this from happening. (Just add this to your filter lists if you’re on Adblock.)

Lastly, earlier this year there was hub-bub surrounding a company called KISSmetrics. It’s a tracking company that allows site operators to see the number of visitors, what they do on the site, and where they come from – all essential information to see where to put advertising funding into and figuring out how to sell their services the most efficiently. Good idea, right? Well, only for the site owners. The end user isn’t able to evade the service even through blocking cookies or using “incognito” modes in his or her browser.

What it comes down to is this: technology is rapidly moving forward and redefining our notions of privacy. Many of those in the older generations are raising their voices in opposition to Facebook’s push for online transparency and the erasure of anonymity. However, the younger generation tends to accept the way things are as a reality of life. Frankly, I think with the ambivalence of the younger generation with regards to privacy, we’ll only be moving towards a world with less of it. After all, it is these people who will be the future coders for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and all the tech giants of the future.

It might be easy to say, “if you don’t like how these companies are treating your privacy, you don’t have to use their services.” It’s not that easy though – the tradeoff is essentially between privacy and convenience. Imagine if, to secure your privacy, you had to give up Facebook, Google, GPS navigation, cell phone usage. Difficult, right?