I always feel like somebody’s watching me

That’s because they are

Eagle Eye: Dreamworks Pictures 2008


privacy, big data, data mining, surveillance, facial recognition, protection


In the 2008 movie Eagle Eye, exploits the idea of a future in which all of our technologies connect and work in tandem to wreak havoc on the two average citizens. They are forced through various interconnected public and private technologies to carry out a sinister task. Frighteningly, we are not far from this chilling scenario as our online data is wrangled, categorized and quantified encapsulating us in our own online self-disclosed content. Additionally, recent advancements in external facial recognition software may work to take a step further in our privacy by analyzing by collecting data regarding our offline habits as well. Where does this end and how can citizens take measures to maintain control over their privacy?


“Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making”

“…big data refers to the increasingly pervasive trend of “data-fying” everyday life by transforming common activities into streams of data.”

“Your face is not scal­able. But your faceprint is; a machine can read it. Indeed, once a face is converted to data points and made machine-readable, it ceases being a public-facing part of ourselves that we voluntarily expose to others. It becomes a resource that others control.”


‘Former FCC Chairman, Newton Minow has famously been quoted saying, “television is vast wasteland.” If this is true, the internet is biggest hoarder’s house that ever existed. Television, for the most part pushes information at us, where the internet sucks us in, capturing not only every mundane interaction, but building an online profile of us based on every click and tap of on our devices. If we don’t care to manage our privacy settings we expose elements of our identity: what we like, don’t like, our sexual preferences, our location, our children’s names, our political views the list goes on and on. A marketers dream.

But as many of the writers point out in this week’s readings, computers still cannot predict basic human tendencies and the conflicting nuances that make us uniquely human (thankfully!). Therefore the algorithms being designed can only “nudge” us in certain directions based on our previous interactions. Big data are forming personas by amassing and connecting data points. These connections are then analyzed and used to form a conjecture about who “they” deduce we may be and then marketers match their marketing campaigns accordingly. To this, some may say, “ah, so what? I like that my Facebook tells me when the boots I’ve been looking at have gone on sale. That is helpful, and it saves me money.” But is it helpful? It may seem so but what if other data points suggest that you may have a weight problem or some other health related issue, could that information be used charge you a higher health insurance premium? Or even keep you from being hired because your potential employer doesn’t want to pony up for higher premiums or worry you’ll miss a lot of work because of the perceived notion you may have a health problem. The data can potentially judge you without really knowing who you are as a person.

Facebook and Google are targeted as the major actors in the “Big Data,” hustle, but they are by no means only players in this game. Authors Lemi Baruh and Mihaela Popescu explain the degree in which our online data is used and manipulated across a variety of platforms and the complex paradox users face when they try self-manage their online privacy. Managing our privacy has become another onerous job of being digitally connected, all in the name of convenience.


Baruh and Popescu argue that if users retreat from data-sharing has “paradoxical consequences,” that being that if you withdrawal that it would reduce the incentive for companies to institute privacy-risk features, and it makes your privacy more enticing for them to pursue as a “token ? to exchange.” Users are then left in a bit of quandary as to how to interact online and maintain control over their data.

Will users be left to develop their online pseudonyms that present themselves in some ideological form of perfection? Will we have to hawkishly monitor our online identity to avoid being profiled by our data-perceived flaws?