We spoke yesterday about digital advertisements that target user preferences on Facebook, Gmail, and other platforms. I’ve always found these targeted ads somewhat unsettling – they remind me of the difficulty of having full control over the extent of the information that internet sites “know” about me. In fact, it would be interesting to have some sort of objective internet inspection done on myself, to know how much information about me exists in the ether – both the hard and fast facts (birthdate, etc.) as well as my preferences that may change over time (friends, TV shows I like, political affiliations).
Today, the line between active and passive internet involvement seems to be fuzzier than ever before. Take the political affiliation example. If I give a donation to a political candidate, that politician’s monthly or quarterly FEC report will show that I gave them money; an outside observer could conclude that I support that politician. Liking a certain politician’s Facebook page or retweeting and sharing their online content could also be considered active support for a candidate. In both the donation case and the social-media-sharing case, I know that people online will publicly be able to see that information and conclude that I support the candidate.
However, what if I don’t donate or don’t think I’m actively engaging with this politician on social media, yet on Facebook, I click on news articles or web links that support my candidate and also click on content that brings up flaws in their opponent? I intend for only myself to know what articles I’m clicking on, yet Facebook (and whoever else could have access to their data) could start to conclude information about my preferences. Methods of engagement that we may think of (or want to think of) as passive can still be active. We as a user may not see our actions as active, but Facebook (and other sites) certainly does.
We also discussed how the internet facilitates more efficient online transactions, and many of the benefits of having an internet-age economy. But what if the goods we’re buying or selling are illegal? I’m interested in how goods sold over the dark internet/Tor network fit into our overall economy. The fascinating idea that “money is just a representation of a bit” was also brought up yesterday, which made me think of bitcoins and other the ways that illegal transactions are conducted. Not sure if we will learn about the technical background of bitcoins in this course, but that is something I’d definitely want to explore if there’s time.
Switching gears, it’s interesting to think about the benefits of Anderson’s Long Tail concept, but also those who oppose it. Funnily enough, the Long Tail showed up in my sociology lecture earlier today. We were talking about production of culture and how a “Blockbuster” strategy can lead to a far greater profit than capitalizing on the Long Tail, after reading sections from Anita Elberse’s Blockbuster. Many large movie studios today don’t focus on the Long Tail and instead use a Blockbuster method: funding three or four major projects (often sequels, remakes, or known crowd pleasers) and hoping that one of them is a box-office smash-hit. This leaves far less room for funding “art house” and other more unique artistic project. Eric Schmidt was a major supporter of the Long Tail when Anderson’s idea first emerged. Only a few years later, however, his views changed and he stated that a Blockbuster approach may be more effective going forward – evidence for how quickly developments can occur in our modern internet era (source: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2013/07/22/longtail/).