Saturday, December 14, 2013

Last Online Assignment :(

I opened my Facebook data set and was surprised to see the amount of information I’ve forked over since September 2008. Looking back over the five years I’ve had a profile, it’s interesting to see how my interests, statuses, and friends have changed and matured. Most of the information I expected, but there were a few things I didn’t think Facebook kept track of: removed friends, previous relationship statuses, and previous emails associated with my account. 

After looking at my analytics, I'll admit it's creepy that all of my information on Facebook is so easily categorized, and has been willingly volunteered in bits and pieces to form a gestalt about my identity. Yet by scrolling through my likes, the information I've put on Facebook seems to positively and accurately represent my personality. The clicked ads potion of the analytics is short, but I remember clicking on almost all of those ads because I was genuinely interested in them. Further, the advertising 'tags' reflect my likes,  which are heavily represented by music, radio, publications, and organizations at the UW and in the Madison community.

I have mixed feelings about this aggregate of data, but I don't feel like Facebook has ever tricked me into sharing something I didn't want share. At the same time I am uncomfortable with the our generation's problem of digital immortality - there is a sense of permanence online that makes it impossible to erase the mistakes of one's past. I wish I could say I will be more cognizant of how I share information online, but I won't - I use Facebook primarily for business and school, two areas where, like a social credit score, it's important to have a positive portrayal of oneself.  

Google’s analytics, on the other hand, were incredibly general. While it got my gender and age range correct, the interests Google gave me were broad and could be applied to a lot of people in college — music, politics, news, pop culture, etc. There were a few dud categories - for example, I am not interested in sports - but Google’s categories are generally accurate; yet the searches I make on Google on a daily basis - as well as the information I share with my Google+ account - could have been refined much more deeply. 

I generally don’t have a problem with these sites targeting my personal interests based on the information I’ve given them. To me, it’s part of the free information- no privacy tradeoff; these companies must make money somehow. And as someone who sells advertising for her job, I’ve come to see it as not such a bad thing. However, I’m happy that I can see the information these giants have collected on me, in the interest of full disclosure. 

I rarely click on advertisements targeted at me (Facebook says I have just 16 clicked ads in the past five years). Just as an experiment, this assignment motivated me to opt out of interest-based ads on Google and Facebook for awhile, and I’m excited to see some extremely irrelevant advertisements. I also downloaded Ghostery, which prevents Google and other sites from closely tracking my web movements.

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