They know me better than I know myself

There is no such thing as online privacy

Although I was born in the 90’s, I didn’t come into contact with computers until the turn of the century. In fact, I didn’t even know what computer was until I moved to Canada in 2001. I never blogged or even owned a Myspace account. In high school when Facebook slowly gained popularity and replaced Myspace, I was oblivious to all of this. My Facebook account was actually created by my best friend, maybe sophomore year of high school, in order to open up an event group for our American Red Cross Youth Club.

I was never really active on Facebook or any other social media. I don’t have Twitter and my Instagram consists of one photo that someone else tagged me in. Probably more than 90% of the 1k+ photos I am tagged in on Facebook were not uploaded by me. All in all, I would say I am not really into social media. I don’t feel like having private events in my life tracked publicly online.

In Generation Like, it mentioned that social media, the internet, is the place for people to market themselves. Currently, the American society is essentially networked through social media. So basically, it’s telling me that in order to actively participate in today’s society, I have to actively participate in social media. In order to stay relevant, I have to use social media to market myself; I am my own media company. And that is why my Facebook account is still live for my private circle and I have a Linkedin account for my professional circle.

In “How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined,” Alice Marwick mentioned a shampoo shelf that can track the customer’s eye movement. This reminded me of a topic I discussed in a course called Shoppers Marketing during my undergrad studies. It was also about tracking shoppers’ eye movements. The typical tracker is eye glasses that people wear during research studies. But there is now also mannequins that can track you. At first I was creeped out like most people. But now that I think about this concept, I’m less skeptical. There are CCTV cameras at every corner of a store already, so is this concept really that out of the box? I think the creepy factor actually stems from the location of the cameras. A very human like figure is tracking you with its eyes is an uncomfortable thought. And this is actually a great metaphor for online tracking: someone or something is in the background watching your every move.

Almax and the Eye See Mannequin by Now The End Begins
In store eye tracking heat map (left) & online eye tracking heat map (right)

For me, I don’t think I currently have a single biggest question about this topic. I had small questions here and there as I went through each piece of week’s readings/videos. But as an entire body of work, it actually just brought about a fear. The fear that entities out there, who store me by random ID numbers on a great cloud, know me better than I know myself. They can tell you with more accuracy about my subconscious decisions and behaviors: spending habits, Like habits, email and call habits, etc. Everything that I have ever done on the internet is logged somewhere, time stamped down to the milliseconds. And I think it is this lost sense of control — this I am not actually anonymous — that scares a lot of people.

Of course I know that every thing is systematically logged, but it isn’t a fact that stays in the top tier of my consciousness. Therefore, I don’t filter every decision I make with this fact in mind. So when I review works like David Cole’s piece on “We Kill People Based on Metadata,” I cringe. I get reminded of the fact that what I deem as private searches/usage of the internet and private messages/calls are actually as public as it can be. All of this data is going towards building my actual online profile. The public profile accounts — such as Facebook, Linkedin — that I actively build for myself is really just a very minuscule portion of the larger picture. NSA is also actively paying more attention to that very profile that includes both public and private information because I am a foreigner. And in today’s every day life, it is really not possible to not passively provide these information because they include all major tools of communication with the rest of the world.

So what’s next? Are more laws going to be enforced to protect privacy? But in what Cole had mentioned, these laws don’t really work to protect foreigners. Or do we all as a group have to become more and more desensitized to this open data process and just accept this as a collateral to the positivity brought by the advancement of technology?