In exploring my personal digital footprint, I was incredibly surprised by just how much information can be recorded and/or inferred about me based on my daily Internet activities. While some of the information was less surprising, like public information I had previously posted to my wall or "information" section on Facebook, much of the information stored was unexpected. For example, not only had the Facebook kept public things, but it also had records of all my private conversations in the form of messages to specific people.
Additionally, everything recorded was organized into specific files pertaining to what they represented. Even things I had liked years ago or people I had poked that I am no longer friends with had been included in the report. One of these files in particular sparked my interest more than the others. This file was the ads file. It recorded all of the different people and products it had tried to target me with. I had no idea that Facebook keeps track of even the ads that I'm targeted with. In today’s society information is powerful. It allows advertisers to cut through the clutter of 21st century advertising by micro targeting to a specific consumer group. With all the information that Facebook stores regarding my likes, age, gender, location, and friends, it serves as a plethora of information for businesses to discern geographics, psychographics, and behaviors upon which to advertise to me specifically. While some people may think it is great that advertising companies are personally catering to them, frankly I find it a little concerning that so much personal information is being sold to advertisers. Some of the information I have actively given out by allowing the public to see my name, profile pic, and other basic information. But as I have seen, Facebook records even things I wish to be kept private. Therefore, what is stopping them from targeting me on my private information?
I think the results of my Google profile surprised me even more. I knew information like search history could be recorded, however, I didn’t know to what extent they could infer things about me from my searches. I was actually quite impressed at the accuracy to which they guessed my age, gender, and interests. There were only a few things that I was not actually interested, likely the result of a search for one of my college courses. But again, it raises the question of what is an invasion of privacy and where is the line that can’t be crossed. Not only does Google use my information for suggestive advertising, but it can also alter my search results based on my information. Well this can be helpful at times, like if I am in Minneapolis looking for restaurants and Google filters for Minneapolis restaurants, it can also be incredibly worrisome if I am looking up more important things and Google begins to decide what it thinks I should read. Essentially, that is censoring information. While Google does not intend to act undemocratically, its actions are effectively limiting the wealth of knowledge available to the average person.