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Beyond Digital: Data Tracking

By John Mikton

07/22/2015

Beyond Digital: Data Tracking
Over the last few weeks, an outstanding series produced by ARTE called “Do Not Track Me” has become available and is getting quite a bit of social media attention.

The different episodes explore and highlight the technologies, algorithms, data mining and aggregation of our online information through digital devices, tools, ecosystems and environments. Each of the episodes breaks down the architecture and rationales of companies, organizations and governments tracking in an interactive manner and examines how this impacts our privacy and digital footprint.

For many members of the pre-internet generation, privacy both online and offline is an important right. Having full control of our privacy and being able to independently curate and choreograph where our information is and goes is an expectation. Naturally, there has always been an aspect of our information which we have not controlled, but in general, the collective expectation in most democratic countries has contained a certain level of privacy.

A paradigm shift has occurred in the last decade initiated by many companies realizing that instead of generating income from only paid advertising (remember pop ups?), they can also keep track and personalize their users’ internet experiences to generate far more valuable information, which can then be leveraged into an income. The incomes generated from a personalized web (where you get search results, ads, and information that is tailored to your tastes and based on a saved history of where you have been) are impressive. This interactive live stream shares the incomes generated by internet companies in real time.

We each are generating information that contributes to Big Data: large sets of aggregated information which we each generate as we interact, live and work in the Internet’s ecosystem. Every click,”like,” scroll, connection, purchase, browse, download and action generates a footprint. This tracking and aggregation of our data is done on all of our devices connected to the internet and/or cellular networks. (A video that unpacks the technology behind tracking information.)

There is no doubt that some of the tracking taking place is positive and provides us with certain efficiencies including a more tailored online experience. On the other hand, there is also a large amount of information that is collected without our knowledge which does not add to our browsing experience.

For many of us the convenience of a frictionless experience with our digital devices, tools, and environments is a huge plus. For this frictionless experience, many of us are willing to give up a level of our privacy to third parties. After all, a convenient and seamless experience is the key for users. Nowadays many of the actions, processes and uses we engage with on digital devices, tools, and environments are almost subconscious actions. Our usage is so embedded in our daily routine, both social and professional, it becomes a non-negotiable part of our life.

With this precedent, we have entered a world where personal information aggregated over time is combined, analyzed and then generated into a longitudinal profile of us. This rich set of information is then sold, traded, and curated by organizations, governments and companies. It is from these information landscapes that services and products we might need can be accommodated or altered based on our profile.

The question of course, is what our world will look like as every single digital device, tool and environment is consolidated, monitored, aggregated, and analyzed over time. Yes, maybe you could try to opt out, but it is unfortunately becoming harder and harder to do so as the internet becomes more integrated with our culture. Commerce, social media, communication, socialization and work have all moved to an online environment 24/7 in most parts of the world.

Does it matter? Are our online profiles and habits a true reflection of who we are? Does this aggregated information sold, traded, and curated by companies and organizations provide us with services and experiences that supersede the erosion of privacy? Either way, the discourse is clearly an integral component of our connected data experience.

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

________________________________________________________________________
John Mikton is Director of eLeanring at Inter-Community School Zurich
http://beyonddigital.org/




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