When I explored what Facebook and Google, I was not in the least bit surprised they knew what they did. I recently made a new Facebook profile to start fresh and clear out the excessive “friends” I had on the account. Therefore, Facebook did not have as much information about me as Google. Nonetheless, the materials they both had to offer impressed me.
What I thought was most helpful and interesting about my Facebook data was that it gave me feedback on my “active sessions,” which I noticed mostly took place in the late afternoon to evening. The rest of the information was pretty standard, which included a list of my friends, pictures I had been tagged in, and messages between other Facebook users. The only categories that didn’t give me anything to work with were the “videos” and “synced photos” sections. One item that surprised me was the “ads” section, in which it only listed the “#University of Wisconsin-Madison” under “Ads topics,” and didn’t have anything listed under “ads history.” This is surprising to me because I thought that there would be many others listed in this category, but I’m also not completely certain on how they figure these “ads topics.”
When analyzing the data Google had to offer, I found that it was incredibly accurate. It was correct in guessing my gender, age, knowing that I spoke some French, and all of my interests. These interests included sports, colleges & universities, and social networks. One thing that it listed that I disagreed with was my interest in “golf,” I’m not sure where it got that data from because I’ve never played golf in my life. Besides that, nothing particularly surprised or bothered me, I don’t believe it’s that difficult to make assumptions about someone’s gender, age, or interests when you have all the data about their search results.
This storage of personal information raises the questions about if this information is being used, how it is being used, and who is using it. Referring back to Professor Wells’ lecture, these kinds of questions could contribute to the hypothesis of “digital dystopianism,” and relate to Eugeny Morozov’s “The Net Delusion.” Professor Wells explained arguments against the internet being an “enabler” of activism, citing Morozov’s “The Net Delusion” as an example, in which the book describes that whatever advantage grassroots activists gain from digital media, gains of repressive states will be greater. I can see how this could apply to Facebook’s data because it can monitor a user’s activity in organized groups, events that they may attend, and messages sent between other users. Basically, the same tools that are used for organizing groups are also used for surveillance. This is not to say that this information is only useful for the government, but advertisers could gain from these materials as well, especially based on the account Google gave about my profile.
This activity did shift my thought about how I communicate and interact online. I can’t say that I’ll be making any changes in the way I use the Internet, but I am more wary of powerful organizations or the government having access to my personal information. The fact that websites are collecting such detailed data about their users imply that it is getting harder to remain “anonymous” on the Internet, and that nothing in the digital society goes unnoticed.