Blog Post 8: Do Not Track (but Do Write!)

Hi all,

As I mentioned in class just now, here’s a thread for some preliminary writing and thinking about the interactive documentary Do Not Track, which we’ll discuss in class this Wednesday:

  • First, you can access the documentary at https://donottrack-doc.com/en/ — you should watch episodes 1, 2, 3, and 5.
  • Once you’ve watched/played that material, you should post two things in this blog thread:
    • One key observation: What’s one important thing you noticed, learned, or were brought to think about here that seems important to you in larger terms?
    • One critical question: What’s one issue or question that emerged for you in this material that we need to think about as we begin this section (this should be interpretive and critical rather than a factual, reading-comprehension type question)?

We’ll use some of these as a starting point for our thinking and discussion Wednesday — see you then!

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. Given the slightly different nature of this post, it doesn’t have to be the full 250 words, but should be composed of finished, substantive thoughts, and is due by 11:59pm on Tuesday, October 30th. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

 

10 thoughts on “Blog Post 8: Do Not Track (but Do Write!)

  1. One key observation I’ve learned from the “Do Not Track” episodes is how easy it is for your information/data is being processed and then being sold to other companies online. Another key observation that I’ve learned is how dad is used to assert power from other people and basically acknowledging how powerful our data is online.

    An issue that can be brought up for section 4 is who exactly has the right to be in charge of everyone’s data and their profiles and if our data is being sold, who gets the money? As mentioned in episode 5, if we have big data, we would be able to solve anything. Especially since technology is becoming a big part of our everyday lives and society, it becomes more dangerous for people to use if data is always being collected every time we open up our phones or laptops.

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  2. I noticed that there are more dangers than benefits to algorithms, online media, and our data presented online. One major problem is that we are the ones giving all this information to social media and other digital platforms. When we agree on the “terms and conditions” for anything we sign up for, we never read the whole policy when it is 50 or more pages long. Unfortunately, this gives them the right to duplicate, restore, and share our information as much as they want. It allows social media to own our profiles and data, and it monitors our actions and behaviors.

    As well as it gives them the right to sell it to advertisements so that they can target their audience better. I was shocked to see how many trackers there are out there in the digital cloud when I had to type in the news website I use and the last website I recently visited. They all make connections and algorithms so that they can know everything you present about yourself, even when sometimes you do not realize that you are sharing that much of personal and sensitive information. Their job is to get better at dealing and organizing this “big data” and the numbers represented to them.
    Also, what intrigued me the most is when they were talking about how the news are presented to you when they realized the community you belong to or political party. As humans, we all want to be in a state of comfort and satisfaction especially on our own digital media profiles, therefore, we act, think, and surrounds ourselves with people and ways that strengthens our beliefs. Social media does a great job of connecting us to similar profiles and communities through our behaviors, such as liking a certain page or commenting. Even though for the Palestinian and Israeli news, both sides were represented with “true” news, nevertheless, they were framed differently. Obviously, the news is biased, but to realize that they track you and send you the news for the pollical party you belong to, was very interesting to see and dangerous at the same time. I remember when I was at a summer camp that revolved about having dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine got a slightly different news about an incident that happened in Jerusalem than Israelis. This triggered a greater conflict in which both believed that their news was right.

    Moreover, I started thinking when they asked, “Who gives our data a voice” (episode 5)? This is a question that these media platforms are trying to answer and understand.

    Is free will challenged when it comes to making our own decision online? Are our daily actions and social behaviors completely influenced by our beliefs and values or by the manipulated media system?

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  3. One key observation I had was that people seem unaware or choose to be unaware of this issue. it was mentioned that if people were asked if they would subject themselves to being watched and/or being tracked that most everyone would say no, yet this is already occurring. Online databases have expanded so much without people’s permission that people may not accept it but they do not think critically about it.

    I wonder if people will ever find a way to acknowledge and/or attempt to change the damage that has already bee done in terms of tracking and watching. If people truly understood the magnitude that they were tracked and watched, would they try and do something about it. As of now not much has been done, but maybe in the future people will try to correct this issue.

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  4. One key topic that I noticed in “Do not track” was how we as a society are tracked alone by basically just having a computer, phone or any other device. By just using the internet you are being tracked constantly as agreements are presented to the user as subtly as possible. These companies know what they are doing when they create long terms of service agreements that no one has time to read and terms that are vague and don’t specify any details. This creates the problem where consumers of the internet don’t know exactly what they are getting themselves into.

    As a society, we need to think more thoroughly about our personal data and how it connects to all different parts of our lives. The corporate side of the internet is always brushed off by the majority of people and more works like “Do not track” help to give the audience a perspective that they might not have noticed before. The general public is not aware of what they are getting themselves into the internet. This may be a question that is never answered as companies will likely never give out any direct details.

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  5. A key observation from the “Do not track” episodes is the inability to “cop-out” or stop using services online. While this may seem like an inconvenience instead of a problem at first, it seems as if we are trapped by society to put our needs and information online in order to continue living the life we know. If as a college student, I stop using Blackboard because of the cookies it provides then I am behind on class material and will not have access to documents or links that will help me do better in my classes. So in this scenario, I will choose my education every time but at the risk of helping big data succeed. Frankly we should not have let it get to this point.

    A critical question that arose while watching these episodes is how net neutrality has become so expensive and when did we allow our data to become the currency? I feel as if the digital age grew rapidly, especially in the United States, and we as consumers did not have the ability to decide what how we wanted to pay for this product. For example, through laws it is understood that property tax goes towards the public school system in cities. There is no deciding vote from consumers other than the continuance of the use of the product (aka we keep using the internet) and I just don’t know how this is not illegal.

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  6. One keen observation that I made while watching the “Do Not Track” series was that these internet spies also have basically complete access to our online lives with little to no regulations, allowing them to track and basically do whatever they want with our lives and our information. This was very eye-opening to me because it made me think about who may be watching me not only from a social perspective, via my social media, but via my purchases online. The online purchasing perspective concerns me the most because I may be receiving an unknown bias towards what I’m buying through the ads that these online information companies are putting in front of me. If this is the case I may only be buying things that are advertised in front of me so much that I subconsciously start to believe that I want and need them. Overall, this makes me wonder how much information do these online platforms really have access to? And in what ways besides advertising do they use my information to influence me on and off the digital platforms?

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  7. A key fact I learned from the documentary was that 90% of the data ever collected on the internet was collected in the past year. This is a fascinating statistic. It makes me wonder how this could be possible given the fact that the internet has been used since the 90’s. I wonder if this shows more so how fast internet usage rates are increasing, or how fast trackers are just recently finding increasingly better ways to collect data on internet users. Either way, it shows how relevant and emergent the concept of big data is in the coming years and decades. The possibilities for this relevant concept, “big data,” is alluded to at the end of the episode as it suggests vast potential for collected internet data to be used to benefit society. It finished with a question: What will Big Data be used for in the future? This is an intriguing hypothetical to consider. The episode suggested potential benefits in various fields such as medicine and public services. It is hard to know for sure what will come of big data, but we can speculate future development based on current public movements. The episode presented a short 40 second video explaining a movement by San Francisco citizens to make the wealth of our collected data made public and subsequently be used to improve public services. While this idea could still be a mere distant reality, it does bring up an interesting critical question.

    In search of ways to optimize the monetization of big data for the public benefit, would it be ethical for the government to invest money into the development of new algorithms that better analyze the data we create by browsing the internet? In other words, should the government have the right to find better ways to “track” each citizen, or does this unreasonably intrude upon our amendment rights?

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  8. One thing that I was not aware of before watching episode 4 of “Do Not Track” was the term “UDID” which stands for ‘Unique Device Identifier’. This marker comes with every phone and it is unique when considering all mobile devices. It is a form of identification that is accessible by most applications. It enables applications to access your information and data with regards to search history and purchasing patterns, which is then processed and used to craft personalized forms of advertisement. In other words, based on your online behavior, apps will not only be able to curate your experience with regards to their services but also, use your data for targeted ad exposure. This thematic is also interconnected with the well-known cookies. These are portions of data sent by websites or applications to people’s web browsers with the intent of recording and keeping track of online user behavior so that such can serve as a reference when users login again to these platforms. When the use and implications of these technologies were explored in episode 2, it repeatedly alluded to questions of choice. I believe this is one important take away that perhaps should be given more attention. In the episode, it was made clear that when using a certain application or website, there is usually a warning or pop-up that informs users that usage requires the application of cookies. This is commonly used by lawmakers and legal proxies as a pretext to dissuade internet agents from being looked at from the narrative of privacy invaders or irresponsible use of personal information. They believe that with the application of these warnings, people are given the possibility of choice as they can choose to accept the cookies or no. What lacks discernment in this argument is the lack of clear options to negate cookies’ usage. In other words, almost always the warnings or pop-ups do not have a ‘No’ option for demonstrating lack of interest in using cookies. It is either clicking ‘yes’, or you are disabled from using the application otherwise. Considering this, context also has an important influence. Most likely, we are bound to almost be obliged to use these apps or websites, whether it’s for personal matters, work, or convenience/practical purposes. Advertisers know that there is so little that we are able to do without having to use websites or applications; especially taking into consideration the present digitally-mediated world. When you are only given the ‘yes’ key, you have almost no option but to comply with the use of cookies. Such speaks to an illusion of choice or duplicitous rhetoric that is popularly used by these applications as a means to justify the use of personal data, that is ultimately capitalized. In a digital world with vast variety and diversity, it sounds antithetical to limit individuals’ scope of freedom online. It is a very complex yet, extremely important theme that needs to be engaged with collectively.

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  9. Illuminous, a data service that pops up in the third episode, is an example of what companies can do based on your social media profiles like Facebook. I logged in to my Facebook, and despite having little activity on the site, they were able to tell me my interests and personality traits. The algorithms these sites use are constantly improving and changing to more accurately characterize their targets. This is inevitable with the advancement of technology but is not as scary as it sounds. The only information they can access is the information you log when online. As long as you are constantly aware of this tracking online, the information they receive should not alarm you

    The four main companies that collect data are Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. All these companies are based out of America. Does this mean that America is the information capital of the world? And does this translate to certain powers when it comes to global affairs?

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  10. One key observation that took me by surprise was at the beginning of the first episode than in the third one. In the first episode, when he states what cookies gives him access to which almost seems like an invasion of privacy. He states that he knew I was on a mac and knew it was night time. I was extremely scared at that moment because I didn’t know what to expect. Moreover, in the third episode, we give so much voluntary information that we make it easy for ourselves to be tracked or monitored. We are being tracked and monitored basically by having these devices which I never thought was actually real when my parents said it but I begin to wonder if this is bad or not and what it means for the market and consumerism?

    A more critical question I may add is our privacy more important than our role as citizens? Even before that, I wonder if our role as citizens is tied to being a productive member of the market? In addition, how can we increase our role in consumerism and know the things we want without the intervention of these technologies? Lastly, how does the idea od performance in the public and private relate to consumerism and its connection to vanity?

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