Continuing to talk about “Do Not Track” (and a few related FWIW readings/thoughts)

You can continue the conversation about “Do Not Track” where we started it and/or here, that’s totally up to you. But I wanted to post a new thread first to remind you to make sure you finish up the series– there is a good “episode” about mobile devices in the middle, and also the last one about the “future” of privacy.

I also wanted to share a couple of related links here. First, in the “in the news” category of things:

“Police Use Surveillance Tool to Scan Social Media, ACLU Says” is a New York Times story from a couple weeks back. Basically, the same companies that are tracking us for the purposes of advertising and to otherwise sell us junk are now marketing their tracking software/capabilities to police departments and other agencies so they can “mine” the data of social media to track (potential?) criminals. That’s creepy.

And then there’s this:

This is an episode of the NPR interview show Fresh Air with a story relevant here. To quote from the web site:

Author and law professor Tim Wu says much of the “free” content on the web comes at a price to users, who are subjected to ads that are targeted specifically at them and increasingly hard to ignore. His new book is ‘The Attention Merchants.’

I heard part of this interview and he makes a good point about how we’ve made kind of a “bad deal” in deciding that the way we’re going to pay for all of this internet stuff is by allowing ourselves to be tracked and advertised at all the time.

My personal reaction/feelings about “Do Not Track” are “well, be aware that there’s not a lot of privacy online anywhere.” But if you reaction is a little stronger and you are thinking “hey, I need to stop these things from tracking me,” you might want to explore some of the different tools out there that can help protect your privacy. For example, (which is one of the sponsors of “Do Not Track”) is a service for this, but there are a ton of others.

And hey, if you really want to unplug for a while, maybe it’s worth taking a look at this advice from Gwyneth Paltrow’s “lifestyle” web site Goop:

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14 Responses to Continuing to talk about “Do Not Track” (and a few related FWIW readings/thoughts)

  1. andrew says:

    I found the last few episodes of this documentary to be fascinating. A couple things stood out to me.

    The talk about data reminded me of talks we have had in classes about positivism. There seems to be this idea, everywhere really, that if we collect enough data about ourselves that we will be able to answer all the important questions we need to answer. I notice this most when it comes to political issue. Every single topic is polled for and political scientists, along with the media, makes generalizations about how we all think. Then our politicians make decisions based on this. Though there is a lack of nuance to big data and the small voices end up getting drowned out because their position polled at less than 50%. Somewhere in the video they talked about the idea that we do not really have a free will and the more data we collect will prove some underlying formula to humanity.

    I was also interested in the talk about how we end up in echo chambers based on our friends and likes. But more than this, since this happens anyway, social media will fuel this by pushing friends and likes in front of you so that you only see what you already believe. I heard Derek use the term homophily bias. This concept is very interesting to me especially during the election season. I wonder how this phenomenon fueled the type of election we are in this year. I would say a lot. The two sides have no idea how to talk to each other and this is largely because they don’t have to. if someone with a differing opinion wades into their camp, they get attacked until that person leaves. Why not stay in a comfortable place. Maybe trolling is actually a good thing.

    Finally, I never did give my email address. I was mostly afraid they would clog my inbox with more junk. But I am not sure I was satisfied with the end. One person said we need a “bottom up” approach to sharing data. Instead of those in power looking down on us, we need to be looking back at them. This is a wonderful idea, but I don’t see it solving anything. I picture a door. If it is open, then anyone can walk through it and they will if they need or want to. The government’s fear of its citizens has caused major problems. But I would venture to say that the citizens fear of their government has cause problems as well. If we all want privacy, then the door needs to be shut and locked. But if that happens, those benefits of the internet may go away. Or the door will need to opened with money and those with the means will have more access.

    Super tough issue. Anyway, time to check Facebook.

    • Scott says:

      When it comes to news, I don’t really view or react to what other people may post on social media, unless I have already seen it or it is of particular interest to me at that time. One of the speakers in the episode talks about news that you should probably be informed about but is coming from a source which is of a different political party or interest of your’s. I try to stay informed on both sides because I have noticed this trend of siding only with people of one political lean. I want to also know those points and aspects which are not necessarily toward my leaning. My speech teacher in high school always told us: you do not have a strong argument until you can argue the opposite of that argument. You need to know both sides. So I try to pay attention (all be it not nearly as much) to the other arguments on particular issues.

      The “echo chamber,” as you call it, of obtaining our news from our friends on social media seems to be the reason things are so decisive within the political realm. It’s either one way or the other. Which so often is not the case. There are so many different roads that lead to the same place. It’s “the narrative that is framed” (one of the speakers says in the documentary) that is what makes the sides/candidates different. So it seems to me that it could be the algorithmic effect of social media that has created such a polarization within our country.

      I gave my email address on Do Not Track. So far they’ve only sent me a confirmation email. I think the bottom up approach they are talking about is how some things get done in government. For example, gay marriage wouldn’t have come to the supreme court unless citizens (those affected by the previous laws) had brought their testimonies to the attention of the government. So I think the real testimony of Do Not Track is that it can allow people to understand and come together en masse to try make the democratic system work by pushing for regulations on tracking. Still, I share a bit of your skepticism.

  2. aderengo says:

    I haven’t finished the rest of the episodes. I only have two more to do, and I’ll finish those tomorrow. There were some interesting things that they said. Lots of the information that was presented in the shows I knew already through classes and research that I have done. Not much of it was new to me.

    The one thing that I found interesting was on the social media episode. I did not connect my Facebook page to it, but I thought that the information that can predict base of your social media was interesting. I knew that we can tell a lot about a person through their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social site that they are on. I didn’t realize that with that information there was the ability to predict things about a person.

    • Marianne says:

      I didn’t realize it either, although after seeing it here, it made sense. I remember setting all the profile settings to private and only for people I am connected to many years ago, but have changed that in the last few years. Most of this was not news to me either.

  3. MattZ says:

    Even though I knew most of what was covered in the documentary, I still love learning about these things. The personalized interactions made it even more entertaining. There are tons of great resources out there to learn about these things. It’s a serious rabbit hole, but for a techie like me, it’s a fun rabbit hole to fall down.

    I think it would actually be equal parts creepy and interesting to see the data that some of these large advertisers have on me. You have to wonder just how much they can accurately tell about you from what you expose online.

    I think to make the problem a bit better we need to be able to watch the watchers. If they have millions of eyes on what they are doing with your data, they might find that they want to be a bit more careful with it. It’s not fair that they can hide from us when we really don’t have much of an option to hide from them. You can try, but you can never completely disappear.

    If you’re like me and want to make yourself a bit smaller on the net I suggest installing an ad-blocking extension as well as an extension called Ghostery, which blocks trackers across all websites you visit.

    • swilso93 says:

      I think I have an idea what they do know about me. I keep getting random phone calls for things I know I didn’t sign up for or that I am even interested in. But when I do sign up for something I do like or just the things I click on the internet, they find my phone number and call me. I keep getting calls about school information. I told them I didn’t ask for any information. The guy straight up said, “You may not have directly signed up for something but you must have clicked or did something to put you in our system.”

      • rachel says:

        For some of the spam calls I get, I’m pretty sure I gave my number out for free once when I put my resume online in a professional webpage portfolio once. I made a website to showcase samples of my work and resume, and I probably should have done something special with my phone number so that it couldn’t get picked up easily by bots or something. Within a few weeks of posting my site, the number of spam or telemarketer calls to my cell phone went up…

  4. Scott says:

    Having watched these videos and thought about these different ideas about the reasons for tracking, is it weird I feel like I’m part of the underground in Orwell’s 1984?

    Episode 4 made me happy that I have a flip phone. I’m pretty sure they can’t access my geolocation or connect me with other contacts on my phone. I’m sure my computer allows that to happen just fine.

    There are definitely benefits to tracking. When the French guy talks about overlapping conditions (such as an event put in a calendar, location, weather conditions, time it takes to get to an event, etc.) it seems that a smartphone can predict a possible solution to a problem (like asking you if you want to hail a taxi). He says that all of this information is related to the context of how much a person users their phone and what they allow to be tracked about them.

    But seriously is Do Not Track trying to scare us? It’s kind of strange to think that my life, who I am, what I do is registered somewhere and can be accessed by someone I don’t know. We kind of give up a right to allow a kind of voyeurism into our lives by accepting this type of lifestyle. If you want to live in this society, do the things that our society does, you have to be accessible whether you like it or not. Again I’m not exactly frightened by this, it just seems like a weird science fiction movie society where in the wrong hands could be made into a dystopia. And what’s even stranger is most people, I don’t think, know that it’s happening to them. This documentary series is powerful because it gives you a glimpse into what is going on. It reminds me a little of Ploato’s Allegory of the Cave: once we have gained knowledge it is difficult, almost impossible, to look at the world the same or continue to live life the same prior to having the knowledge. One of the speakers say, “It’s not about personal choice. It’s not that I made the choice to give up my privacy. It’s that we as a society we haven’t set any limits on the type of tracking that can happen.” This seems to be the main point, that we need some kind of regulation to feel safer about how our government acknowledges our right to privacy. Is it a right?

    • Steve Krause says:

      I like the connection with Plato here– full circle!

      I hear what your’e saying though, Scott, and I think it’s far too easy to get far too paranoid about all of this. Just because all these different services (technically) track your data doesn’t mean they do anything with it. Just because you might have had your credit card number stolen in some hacker thing (like what was going on with Target a few years ago) doesn’t mean that it happened. So I guess what I’m saying is personally, I’m not going to change what I’m doing.

      That said, I think that a lot of people are completely unaware of the extent to which what they think is “private” online isn’t private even a little bit. So for me, that’s the real power and point of this piece, to make you all aware that this is going on. How you individually decide to deal with it is kind of up to you, though it probably isn’t practical to disappear from tracking like this entirely.

  5. swilso93 says:

    After watching more of these, I feel paranoid but not enough to stop using social media or the internet. I have to use the internet for school and work obviously but I guess technically I don’t have to have social media. But I like it. And by using it, I am already agreeing that to my privacy being used in some way. It’s just the way it is. I can say I probably am addicted to Facebook and the like but I like it. Its how I talk to family and share things with them that are far away. Its how I can connect to old friends from high school. Share photos to my family even if they live close because then they have their own photo for them to keep. I didn’t have to even print anything.
    I didn’t give them my email or anything else as I was watching these videos. The whole point of their series of videos was to show much we share with the world and then they want us to share more with them? It kind of seems… like backwards thinking. I’m not sure of the word I am looking for. I didn’t really enjoy the videos enough to want to see more from them anyways.

    • ReneeG says:

      I really relate to you talking about feeling paranoid, but not enough to stop using social media. I think that it has become such a big part of my life that I can’t imagine not having it…it’s kind of crazy how dependent that we (or at least I have) become on social media. It’s not necessarily that I need it, but it has simply become a part of my daily routine. I don’t even think twice about using it.

  6. totallykyle94 says:

    This series has made me think much differently about the information I freely provide about myself via my computer and my smart phone. I do take steps to limit how easily I am tracked by using extensions, various google settings, ad-block browsers, etc. I have used TOR browsers in the past, but this is not something I feel the need to do constantly.

    Episode 7 of “Do Not Track” is probably the one that got to me the most, and while there was some information I knew about previously, I had not considered everything that was discussed until now. The situation with Edward Snowden is one I am quite familiar with, and I remember his NSA leaks causing people to choose a side, security vs. privacy. However, I personally do no buy into this mentality. As the journalist that appeared in a few episodes stated, security and privacy do go hand in hand, and I want to do my part in insuring that our future in this sense provides both of these for everyone.

    When I have talked with others about this issue before, some have said “I don’t have anything to hide, so I do not mind my information being freely accessed” or something to that extent. But even if someone says otherwise, human beings all value privacy in some way or another. Closing the door when using the bathroom, using “incognito” web browsers, etc. To me, the point is not about whether one has something to hide (which we all do), but the “freedom to be forgotten”. I will be participating on some of the projects linked at the end of the series, and I hope that more people do the same.

    We deserve to know how and why we are being monitored and tracked, and what we do with this information should be for us to decide. Although I do not particularly worry about my privacy constantly on a day-to-day basis, I am conscious of what information I am providing, and although I know that I am not and cannot ever be completely anonymous, I value privacy highly, and everyone deserves that right.

  7. rachel says:

    I suppose Geofeedia is just one more thing to worry about. I worry about the police force getting too direct of access to anyone’s social media. Personally, I don’t list my home city location on my profile (though anyone could tell the general radius of where I usually am due to the posts my husband tags me in, and because his profile lists his home city location. I also stopped listing my previous or current job positions on facebook, since I don’t want previous or future employers to be able to search any job info for me that I don’t list on LinkedIn.
    I’ve also heard that some people coming from abroad are getting their phones checked at the airport, which occasionally means getting their recent social media posts checked. I have one article that popped up at SVSU (my previous university I attended for undergrad) where a Mauritanian student traveling to the United States to study at SVSU during the upcoming academic year was denied entry and deported after they found an image on his cell phone of a novel, saying that it glorifies Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)…except the book actually condemns Daesh, but alas. Link to the article here:

  8. Marianne says:

    Wow, you have a real live example of the social media being used against someone in a rather heinous way. Reminds me of the interment camps for Japanese and Italians in California during WWII. My aunt had stories about going to the dances at the Italian camp to meet boys (properly chaperoned, of course) and it just sounds like a different world and is so hard to imagine. I have mixed feelings about all of it. On the one hand, I am one of those people who think “I have nothing to hide so they can know what they want.” I consider it my price for protection from the people out there who are evil and may want to harm me or other members of the public. I read the Police Surveillance article and, frankly, I don’t have a problem with them monitoring social media to find people stupid enough to boast about their crimes. The fact that anyone thinks anything they post online is not fully available to the public everywhere is amazing to me.
    But then I read the arguments against it and I start to waver. Would I like it if I had some privacy? If I had control over who was allowed to know what, or who any of my information was shared with? Well, yeah. But I have the choice. I can choose to phone instead of using the internet. I can choose to opt out of social media. I can choose to give up the smart phone and go back to flip phone. I choose not to give up those conveniences so the price I pay for them is the invasion.
    I do wish there were a system like what he talks about in the NPR recording where we could opt to pay a fee and not have the ads, kind of like what Pandora does, but I didn’t want to pay for internet service back before the ads either.
    The bottom line is that the current state of the Internet is a direct result of how we (people) have used it and taken advantage of it. It does need to be fixed because it is an industry or a technology that is growing worse instead of better. But there is a cost to everything in the world and we (people) need to be ready to pay for what we get before it can ever be fixed.

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