Blog Post 11: Digital Surveillance and the Politics of Data

Hi all,

Nice discussion of Hasinoff and the gender politics of sexting yesterday. Our readings for Monday take us into a different set of social and political questions around digital culture and life online — together, Madrigal and Cohen offer all sorts of ways to think about how our identities take shape through data, and how corporate access to that data changes the possibilities and limitations of our lives online.

So for this blog post, you should to respond to the questions they raise in whatever way seems most significant to you — what issues do they raise, what concerns do they inspire? You’re free to take your response in whatever direction interests you, as long as you quote and cite some significant material from both articles.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by midnight on Sunday, April 9th. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

22 thoughts on “Blog Post 11: Digital Surveillance and the Politics of Data

  1. The vast range of information that gets sent out to umpteen amounts of companies’ computers not just caters your ads to your search history and various other telling information from your browsed websites but it also collect your ‘cookies.’ Cookies are the data taken from your browser and all the things you search, look at or buy on the internet. When i was younger I can vaguely remember seeing something along the lines of – do you want to enable cookies not? This right here is not that clear. It never gave me an explanation of what enabling cookies is but just asked me if I want it or not. This is one of the many problems associated with how corporations access our data and how well they’re informing us on what they are taking and why. To try and break this down and explain why our information being taken by computers is so alarming I decided to compare it to times where you would show identification of yourself to someone of authority. You would want to ask- why do you want to see my ID if someone randomly asked you for it. That’s personal information that you don’t go throwing around. Our computers store all our personal information, but who knew that all of that was getting sent around by companies? It’s an invasion of privacy. Madrigal’s article explores the ways in which she tries to stop sharing her data with the internet and found that, “There is no way, though the companies’ own self-regulatory apparatus, to stop being tracked online. None.”(Madrigal,6) Not only are we being tracked but at the same time we are struggling to find out how we as humans in the physical world relate to our digital selves on screens, online vs offline selves. “The great downside to this beautiful, free web that we have is that you have to sell your digital self in order to access it.” (Madrigal,9) The revelation by Madrigal correlates to Cohen’s article on the access strangers have to your personal information not just your search history. Facebook is set to allow users to have privacy and communicate at the same time but little has been discussed about third party viewers who are able to access your information even if you have a private profile. “Thus despite its detailed privacy policy, Facebook itself seems unsure of how members’ data will be read.”(Cohen,15) Our private information that we thought we were consciously keeping unattainable by others is ultimately used in ways that Facebook cant even explain. Information from your profile, timeline, user activity etc are all tracked not just by the friends you add but strange companies- third parties-who use your life as reference of information.

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  2. It is difficult for a technology user not to see ads as an annoying and intrusive barrier between them and their content. I remember when Instagram integrated ads into user feeds each ad that appeared in my feed did not fit seamlessly with my experience, but it was instead, noticeable and intrusive. When ads were first integrated into Instagram feeds I would never have thought that in the near future I would accidently like an ad that appeared in my feed. However, today the ads I see in my feed are so tailored to me as a specific user that in some cases I do not even notice that the images are ads. Alexis Madrigal explains what the process of data mining looks like to many users, “We just know that for some reason, at one point or another, an organization dropped a cookie on us and have created a file on some server, steadily accumulating clicks and habits that will eventually be mined and marketed (5). Although a user may know what data mining is, many do not understand the scope of information that companies are collecting. Cohen explains how, “…websites that collect data from users do not permit users to consent to how data is ‘abstracted from the digital traces of their activities,’ and people cannot anticipate how their information will be used (16). Because users do not understand or consent to data collection, the mining process is uncomfortable. Additionally, a point in Madrigal’s essay that I found particularly interesting is her differentiation between machine and human surveillance: “With the machine, you have more privacy than if a person were watching your clickstreams, picking up collateral knowledge” (8). The idea that because a robot is monitoring the user’s internet behavior there a disconnect from who sees the information collected and what is done with it.

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  3. The main thing that comes to mind after reading these articles and beginning to ask myself questions about my identity on the internet is the question of anonymity. When in public I present myself differently than if I was alone in my room at home. However, Madrigal’s article posed the very real fact that suffering the internet at home is just as public as doing so in the library. Thousands of companies have access to everything that happens on ones computer or phone and the knowledge they get from this allows advertisements to be catered directly too people who would, from their previous search history, purchase that product. If it is so easy that its happening now at such a large rate does this mean that people have to put up a wall in even their own room that everything they are doing is being watched? Madrigal does say that a tool called “Do Not Track” can be used to tell tracking companies not to save their information but even the legitimacy of this has been called into question. The question with this is then what companies have to abide by this demand and to what extent. Is it the right of the user to have complete privacy when doing something under the assumption that it is private. Is it the right of companies to use their knowledge only for good, the sake of advertising products the user may actually want. My question is that if just because someone looks up something that they will now have a file out somewhere in the world with that written down. What if in the future, like social media accounts, perspective jobs, educators and so on now have access to everything someone did under the assumption it was private. When on social media sites, for example, Facebook, one may be under the impression that they are going to be interacting with however many friends they have. While it may only be noticed subconsciously, Facebook’s news feed is utilized as a strategy to advertise products that have been previously researched to Facebook users (Cohen). This furthers the idea that what is taken as personal and private enjoyment is both accessed and controlled by others.

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  4. The idea of companies tracking me on the internet certainly bothers me, however not because they know my information, but because I personally don’t care if these companies know my digital identity, and perhaps even better than I know it myself. Madrigal states,“It matters little if your name is John Smith, Yesh Mispar, or 3211466. The persistence of information about you will lead firms to act based on what they know, share, and care about you, whether you know it’s happening or not” (8, Madrigal). As long as these companies continue to respect my identity, not pretending to be me, or using my banking information in transactions I do not give my consent towards I personally don’t care whether or not someone knows everything about me. Perhaps others might, but I can almost guarantee that most people that may have a problem with internet tracking, have also disregarded reading the entire “Terms and Conditions” page before clicking accept on some sort of proposal. For instance, Facebook’s Terms of Service states, “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant…to the Company, an irrevocable…fully paid Worldwide license… to distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising” (14, Cohen). The point here is, in an age where our digital identity is becoming more and more prevalent in our lives, I think we have yet to reach a stage where we are really aware that we have such an identity, or really care if we are indeed aware. As long as we continue to turn a blind eye, we can continue to enjoy the targeted advertisements for products we’re actually interested in, instead of having our web searches filed with pointless products for a broader audience. As much as I hate it, Capitalism and the internet go hand and hand, and in this modern age it seems one can’t thrive without the other. Growing up in this digital age, I think people of my generation have come to accept that companies want to exploit us, for better or worse, and that’s how it’s been, how it is, and how it will be until the day we die.

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  5. As described by Madrigal with shockingly revealing detail, the advertising industry is constantly evolving and innovating in its existential pursuit to draw as many eyes, clicks, and sales as it possibly can––even at the expense of also “evolving” and “innovating” how we define privacy online. One of the topics in either of the pieces by Cohen and Madrigal which resonated deeply with me is the introduction and growth of the practicing of “crowdsourcing.” This practice is one which I find difficult to define, so I’ll explain through an example; outsourcing is when a prompt/job/task is openly expressed by a company to the general public along with a reward. As the company is expecting and receiving a high volume of responses of work, they’re able to choose among potentially thousands of submissions in response to their prompt and reward the artist/author/creator of the chosen submission. Despite the lack of any obviously frightening or threatening about the practice of crowdsourcing, it really hits home for me because it literally hits home for me. Both of my parents are deeply involved in the advertising industry. My father is an illustrator whose work can be found in/on/around books, magazines, museums, galleries, and (as of this year), the Travel Channel. My mother is an art director, whose work can be found on print ads, billboards, television spots, business cards… you name it. Both my mother and father, who have dedicated their careers to their craft, have fallen victim to crowdsourcing, in which any individual who owns or has access to a computer has essentially been chosen to craft the face of a brand (a logo) over the work of a professional. How I formulate my opinion on crowdsourcing is difficult and complex because placing my loyalty in parents and criticizing crowdsourcing puts me at risk of sounding outdated, but advocating for crowdsourcing (for its being inherently more cost effective for companies) is more akin with the times. However, despite costs, I firmly believe an age-old phenomenon is at work here; the act of cutting corners to save money. While hiring a professional to create a logo (for example) may take longer and cost more, the product will likely be far more specialized, cared for, and thought out than whatever the crowd of photoshop-owners-turned-graphic-designers can accidentally make. Moral of the story: invest.

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  6. Companies having the ability to track me over my internet movements is indeed scary. I can try to soothe myself by saying that the companies, no matter who they are, probably only have an IP address and no personal information – it seems more plausible than them tracking “me”. The “Me” that I present online with Facebook or other social medias. No matter how comforting it is, I don’t know who really has access to my life. Should these companies continue to track people on there website movements in order to profit off of them? Is there another way that major companies that tracked Madrigal like the prestigious Google, Facebook, Microsoft, to not well known Adblade or Adtech to make money? Billion dollar companies like Google should have more means of making money solely because they are an innovative, world renowned, new world agent. Creativity is their business, and they operate the lives of millions of people’s online organization and presence. They are creating phones, web browsers, and so many more things to sell and profit off of, yet they still resort to spying on customers/users in order to shove a commercial at them based off of what they do in their own private online life? Many things can be embarrassingly revealed about somebody this way, as many movies and television shows have shown with the classic “internet history” joke. Except in this case, it’s worse than just your history because it leaks into your present with banners and pop-ups that only serve to annoy. But now we must decide how far we can allow companies like Google to go with tracking us before it seriously damages peoples lives.

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  7. We live in the age of technology and social media. Facebook has fundamentally changed the Internet and the way humans interact with the Internet and each other. The Internet and online privacy are phenomena of our time. Increasingly there is also a distinct difference between our physical and digital personas (Madrigal, 2). Online personas are complicated. In many instances the way that our generation acts on social media can be very different then our actual beliefs. This can go in both directions; whether the social media sites are squeaky clean self-promotional devices or show wild parties or seem to promote certain ideals in order to fit in and “seem cool” (Boyd). The new age of social media has more importantly fundamentally changed the way we interact with technology. Through Facebook mainly but other social media sites like Instragram we have become creators of media content. Companies such as Facebook who sell it to third party advertising companies then track our content and the friend’s content we view and like. In essence we are “free labor” creating data for advertising companies to mine and use to better form custom advertisements directed at us as individuals (Cohen). This free labor is used by facebook to then customize an individual Facebook for each user based on preferances. Social media both serve to connect and disconnect individuals. While on one hand it allows us to keep in touch with people, who we do not regularly see or interact with. It also serves to disenfranchise people, people focus on looking cool and creating disingenuous social media accounts that project not their individual feelings but what they feel others wish to see. The age of social media has both connected and disconnected people creating broader networks but fewer genuine connections

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  8. Both the Madrigal and Cohen article discuss the issue of data collection online and the usage of that in our daily online life. Madrigal discusses the many businesses and outlets that our data will go through and what purpose it will serve for these companies. The article also discusses the advantages and disadvantages to us the user and what it means to have our data out there forever. For me I always question the ethics of tracking data and using it to ones advantage. Obviously most people wouldn’t really care if some websites are tracking where you go online just to sell you certain advertisements (if they did care there would be uproar, its pretty easy to look up who’s tracking you). Although where is the line drawn in the ethics of this data tracking? At what point does the information you track become unethical or illegal? For Madrigal, they don’t really have an answer to that, they discussed tools being used to combat this collection, something rooting out the good companies that are gathering harmless data from the bad ones, gathering any sensitive information or harmful data. Even though people think they have these technologies, they still don’t realize what’s being tracked. Pornography for example, steamy subject. People sometimes use “Incognito Windows” to not track their browsing history when using porn websites. But the porn websites already track the users IP address, identifies it and creates a profile for you. Even though you don’t have an actual profile on the website, when you visit, they track what you watch, then the websites recommends certain content they think the viewer would enjoy. Overall, humans need to be careful online.

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  9. Advertising is a field that doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon, especially with the internet around, and the countless ways they can get people to freely go where they want just at a click of a button. As Madrigal puts it, “To be clear, these companies gather data without attaching it to your name; they use the data yo show you ads you’re statistically more likely to click. That’s the game, and there is substantial money in it” (Madrigal 2). The whole internet is filled with too much stuff. Ads are overwhelming the web and yet if sites didn’t have them we would have to pay for their services so it is a give and take relationship when thought about logically. I bring a slightly different perspective into this world because, I was raised by a man who was a head of advertising for many different companies, and even he thinks this new generation of companies filling side bars of every site with ads is just wrong and un-inventive. The world of advertising can be seen in two ways, that of an art form and that of the annoyance of them being everywhere. Many people think of them as the second now, because of the internet being filled to the brim with them. Although back in the day of TV spots, the ads used to be more of an art form, a representation of all the company believed in. Now it is slapped on to the bars or websites so that they can make a penny click ad. Then there is the whole political side of advertising on websites and the big data that these companies sell off to market better towards you, the consumer. As Cohen says, “By uploading photos, posing links, and inputting detailed information about social and cultural tastes, producer-consumers provide content that is used to generate traffic, which is then leveraged into advertising sales” (Cohen 7). The world of big data, and the companies that gather this data to sell to other companies to sell better to people, is the way in which e-capitalism is the next biggest boom in the technology world, if we are not there already. All these huge social media platforms make their money through selling the information their people post about themselves and turn into cash with companies who now think they know how to best advertise to a certain demographic. They see that tons of people are talking about the Kardashians and a lot of kids are more liberal and against the police brutality thing, great lets advertise a commercial with Kendall Jenner and make it in a riot scene about Pepsi being the bridge between the two worlds. This big data thing doesn’t seem to work all the time though.

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  10. When discussing ads and how they track what you look up on the internet, I believe it is innovative but definitely invasive. I think it is definitely smart how websites work to target people who look up different articles, different products, different websites, etc. We learned in class that often when people say they are married/engaged on Facebook, more ads for engagement rings and gifts for your significant others come up. The internet tracks your information so that they can offer you more ads to what you are interested in. This is obviously not a perfect system, because I personally used to have my relationship status as “married” even though I was not on Facebook, so any ads about rings or the sort are not relevant to me. I also have noticed, in the past, that ads on YouTube only pertain to something I have googled once or twice. There are definitely flaws in the algorithm, but for the most part it is pretty spot on. It absolutely feels like your privacy is being invaded, but no one is ever going to really use your past Google searches against you; it is also impossible to keep track of every single search, so I do not see a lot of fault in it.
    An important quote from the Madrigal reading goes as follows: “At the heart of the problem is that we increasingly live two lives: a physical one in which your name, social security number, passport number, and driver’s license are your main identity markers, and one digital, in which you have dozens of identity markers, which are known to you and me as cookies. These markers allow data gatherers to keep tabs on you without a name (8).” This quote sums up what the entire article is trying to say; that we are living two separate lives, both keeping track of us.
    An important quote from the Cohen reading goes as follows: “By uploading photos, posting links, and inputting detailed information about social and cultural tastes, producer-consumers provide content that is used to generate traffic, which is then leveraged into advertising sales. By providing a constant stream of content about the online activities and thoughts of people in one’s social networks, Facebook taps into members’ productivity through the act of surveillance (7).” This quote describes to readers exactly what is occurring when they post, like, or search anything.

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  11. Something I found really interesting in Madrigal’s article, “I’m Being Followed: How Google – and 104 Other Companies – Are Tracking Me on the Web” was the quote from Chuck Curran, the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)’s chief responded to Stanford research that showed that at least some companies continue to collect all data even after one selects “opting out” of being tacked. Madrigal writes that, “in essence, Curran argued that users do not have the right to *not* be tracked. ‘We’ve long recognized that consumers should be provided with a choice about whether data about their likely interests can be used to make their ads more relevant,’ he wrote. ‘But the NAI code also recognizes that companies sometimes need to continue to collect data for operational reasons that are separate from ad targeting based on a user’s online behavior.” First of all, I found much of the wording in this quote and paraphrasing very interesting. I think the fact that he says users do not have the right to not be tracked implies that in using the internet you are, in a sense, giving up some freedoms and privacy, which generally and broadly are considered fundamental rights. I also think in Curran’s quote explaining that companies need to collect data for other purposes, is intentionally vague. What are the other “operational reasons” that would require collection of the data of internet users? Why not just be open about these reasons? In Nicole Cohen’s “The Valorization of Surveillance,” she talks about Beacon, a “function that signaled a dramatic intensification of Facebook’s valorization of surveillance.” She includes a quote from Facebook’s press release about the feature: “Beacon is a core element in the Facebook system for connecting businesses with users and targeting advertising to the audiences they want.” In this quote, the attitude of Facebook is that what Beacon and other services like it are doing is natural and expected and not a bad thing. Similarly to Curran’s quote, it recognizes the needs of companies and businesses as highly significant, maybe even more so than the needs of those they are advertising to.

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  12. “This leads to the second argument of this paper: it is the unpaid labour of producer-consumers that facilitates this surveillance. Like other Web 2.0 businesses, Facebook is engaged in the commodification of what can be understood as free labour, or what has been called immaterial labour. What distinguishes this particular social network is the way in which surveillance is fundamental to this process” (Cohen 8).

    Something that I found really interesting about the Cohen reading was the way in which the author so definitively posits users’ involvement with/participation on social media sites like Facebook as a kind of “labour.” She does so because of the fact that Facebook, as a social network, only exists because it has people who choose to engage with it. And because there is a large audience of people who do choose to engage with it, the company itself can monetize this user interest by way of advertisements. The thing that makes Facebook unique, though, is that people aren’t only being marketed to as a result of their presence on the site, but they’re being marketed to based on the things that they are providing to that site. In this way, they’re doing the work of advertisers, by simply putting out onto the Internet the demographic/geographic/behavioral information that advertisers would otherwise have to work to find. All of this being said, I can’t help but feel skeptical when Cohen uses the word “labour” in reference to involvement on social media—it’s only labour, in an economic sense, because it enables Facebook to turn a profit. We don’t post on social media to make sure that Facebook gets a good payday—we do so because we want to, and the profit is something that the people at Facebook capitalized on. Where the morality gets murky, however, is the idea that people don’t know that they’re being capitalized on, or how, in any specific sense. This is what I found most compelling in the Madrigal reading—at one point, the author states that “the only right that online advertisers are willing to give users is the ability not to have ads served to them based on their web histories” (Madrigal 6). This seems like a sketchy line to draw, in my opinion. Aren’t cookies essentially a browsing history, just in a different form? Sites—and the companies that pay to monitor them—know when and how you engage with them. If anything, isn’t that more information than a browsing history offers? Yes, there’s something more total to a browsing history, but cookies provides companies with more of a different kind of information—not just that you engaged with particular content, but how.

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  13. One of the most interesting things about the way these tracking companies are able to manipulate consumer data is that they put virtually no work into gathering information that can completely change the way a person experiences online media. All aspects of social media are user-generated, meaning anything that a person already knows and likes ends up on these platforms. And although there is an “asymmetrical power relations…between those two produce content and those who profit from it” (Cohen, 14), the content producer is tricked into feeling more powerful than they actually are because they believe their content is becoming part of collective intelligence that they are a part of.
    There are several ways these companies and media platforms make their users feel like they are in control. According to Cohen, “the site incorporates users’ knowledge into its development, which retains members (perhaps instilling them with a sense of ownership in the site, or at least a sense of the importance of one’s voice) and affirms the critical importance of an active membership” (Cohen, 13). Allowing users to voice their opinions about how to make the site better not only strengthens the desire for users to continue using the platform, but also increases the relevancy of information that ad companies retrieve, because it will be more tailored to the user. Everything about internet usage is two faced, or as Madrigal puts it, a “double edged sword” (Madrigal, 9). On one hand, it can be very nice, and somewhat useful to have specified info on our social media pages rather than ads for random services that we may not be interested in. But on the other hand, the sheer amount of data that ends up going to unknown locations for an indefinite amount of time is alarming and makes us that much more on guard about how easy it is for our personal identification to be stolen for more malicious purposes.

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  14. Both of these articles tackle a specific topic that I tend to not think about too much. Of course, when you really start to think about how that ad on Facebook seemed to know that you were just on the American Eagle website, it is a bit odd. But perhaps unlike Madrigal, without thinking to deeply into how that ad got there, I appreciate it alerting me of a sale. I actually disagreed with Madrigal a few times in her essay, and I wonder if the reason I feel so at ease with the idea of being specifically advertised to based on data collection is because I have never known an internet without that feature. Although I will ask one of the same questions—“Should users be able to stop data collection, even if companies aren’t doing anything “bad” with it?” (7). As she points out, there is no precedent to this phenomenon and there is no way of knowing where that data is all going. However harmful this may be, it is worth noting, as Cohen points out, “Facebook generates revenue predominantly from advertising that, thanks to personal information provided in members’ profiles is precisely targeted to selective groups” (10). Due to this lucrative connection, it remains doubtful that the targeted ads are not going to vanish any time soon. But that brings me back to the issue of whether a user should be able to make a decision about their internet activity data for themselves. Personally, I stand by the opinion that this data collection is not harmful and can actually be helpful for the most part (it is how I always know about sales on Redbubble), and because it is data that traces patterns in the websites you visit and specific things from your profile it helps to aim ads at you that you could actually have an interest in. While I do know a lot of people that will call this “creepy” they will also click on the ad to see what it has to offer, and because of that, it will remain an important form of online advertising for now and probably a long time to come.

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  15. One of the things that scares me about the internet and the digital age is the lack of privacy online. To my knowledge, without ever reading an agreement, signing a form or accepting rules, hundreds of companies track everything I do on the internet for the purpose of advertising. As Madrigal states, in her experience, “105 different outfits were collecting and presumably selling data about me on the Internet… It’s not just Google or Facebook or Yahoo. There are literally dozens and dozens of these companies and the average user has no idea what they do or how they work.” (5/10, Madrigal) Although in recent years this has become less relevant due to the Google Chrome extension Adblocker, the fact that all of my information and interests are shared online to get me to participate in consumer culture truly seems ridiculous and an absurd invasion of privacy.
    However, relevant to advertising or not, communicating online is apparently the most efficient medium of communication and most likely its future. In Cohen’s article, Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 stated that “sharing information with friends through face-to-face communication or through a telephone call is inefficient, as it requires paying attention to one another simultaneously… ‘we’re building a massive network of real connections between people through which information can flow more efficiently than it ever has in the past.” (11, Cohen) True or not in terms of efficiency, this does take away a personal and natural aspect to the world around us. Human, physical interaction is incredibly important. While it’s not going away anytime soon, our growing dependence on technology sends us further in a direction in which the digital world may become more important than the physical world.

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  16. One concept that I found to be particularly interesting from these readings was regarding the right of an individual not to be tracked by online corporate entities. One thing I find particularly interesting about this discussion is that it the intercepting viewpoints are personal privacy and corporate profits. Online corporate entities argue that the tracking of personal information usually in the form of “cookies” is done to more perfectly tailor the individual’s ad experience to help consumers save time and allow people trying to advertise to do so more successfully. However, when users attempt to prevent this data collection from occurring, they find that they can’t. Companies argue that users “Do not have the right to *not* be tracked” (Madrigal) because the collection of data is vital for online viability, and state that preventing targeted ads from companies is enough privacy. However, this is a false assertion because when users attempt to tell these companies to “Do Not Track” it’s clear that that is exactly what they want them to do. But sadly, this still gets done and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop anytime soon. As Madrigal explains, “the great downside to this beautiful, free web that we have is that you have to sell your digital self in order to access it.” As the world advances toward a society that relies more and more on technology, it is clear that this issue of personal privacy online will only become more and more relevant and alarming.

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  17. I have also noticed the ads on Facebook and how they are tailored to the websites that I shop at or ads based on my location; however, I have never thought deeply about their impact and use. I have just accepted this violation. What I found more disturbing about the use of online and personal information was not the surveillance itself, but the creation of a new form of capitalism and our society’s acceptance of this new form of advertising. One thing I have learned from this class is that media is a tool to promote our society’s capitalist agenda, and social media is no exception. Social media not only uses their massive amount of active users to sell products, but it has also created a revolutionary way to use information and for users to make money. Cohen focuses on the idea of Facebook’s and other websites’ use of free labor. Cohen defines free labor as “’excessive activity’ not typically viewed as work, performed on the internet that creates value for capital….The business models of Web 2.0 ventures depend on the performance of free labor; without it there would be no content and therefore no profit”(Cohen, 8). Internet users’ activity on the web is a form of labor that provides companies with information to sell and make a profit from. This is the ultimate use of capitalism which relies on the consumer to work and purchase products without any capital gain. We are just constantly being used and manipulated by large companies in order for them to acquire both our information and our money. It is frustrating to think that every time I add a new friend on Facebook or like a post, I am helping a large company make money. That is not my intention when using Facebook. Another disturbing factor to this constant use of personal information to sell products, is that our society has accepted it. Madrigal points out in her article that there is no possible way to stop websites from using information that has been shared online. This shocking fact does not bother society as a whole since many people are aware that Facebook customizes ads based on the user. People have simply accepted this new form of capitalism; otherwise, nobody would be using the internet.

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  18. Alexis C. Madrigal’s article, “I’m Being Followed: How Google – and 104 Other Companies – Are Tracking Me on the Web,” made me rethink how I am tracked online. To start it off – and I believe most students would agree with me – I did not realize the amount of companies that collect online data. 105 companies is an incredibly large amount. I assumed that only big companies such as Google and Facebook tracked my online presence. For example, there have been many times on Facebook where I have been scrolling through my newsfeed and find advertisements for the exact dress I was looking at online the day before. I didn’t realize that this data could have also been collected by many other smaller more specialized companies.

    Data collecting and tracking online is an entirely new way of advertising. Companies can “buy the audience without [buying] the publication” (4/10). In traditional advertising publications would gather audiences and then advertisers would purchase ads in the publication to reach the created audience. Madrigal describes this as an art I think primarily for the reason that a human was connected to the process. Now computers and machines are using this information and processing it.

    What struck me the most was this idea of “opting out” and how it is not what it is portrayed to be. When a person “opts out” of being tracked they are still tracked, they just aren’t given targeted advertisements based on the data that is collected about them. I can accept this to an extent. Stores must be able to track the online shoppers to increase their sales and learn more about their demographics. Madrigal brings up an interesting point that questions if this tracking is even anonymous. It is said to be anonymous, and all the information is left without a name of address but the information is still bundled together. It creates a character. Is it really anonymous even with all this information together?

    I also found a strong connection between the free wed and cable television. Although both are free one must “sell [their] digital self in order to access it” (9/10). Advertisements, and the money they bring in, keep the web and tv alive. And as each day passes these advertisements are becoming more targeting with the help of the expansive amount of data collected. Both rely on their advertisements to function.

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  19. The web is probably one of the most successful technological advances of our time as it allows people to connect with the rest of the world through globalization, the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale. But within this web, filled with data and information, especially personal information about users, there is a thin line between private and public information that is available to corporations. In this digital age, many corporations and companies are using the internet and “personal” data of their consumers’ search history to make profit. Like tv ad sales, the data, online activities, of online users are collected and sold to hundreds of different companies who are hoping to target potential buyers with their ads and products. These collections of data consists of a user’s interests. According to Madrigal’s article, “I’m Being Followed: How Google –and 104 Other Companies,” nearly instantaneously, companies can log your visits, place ads tailored for your eyes specifically, and add to the ever-growing online file about you. (Madrigal 2) This invasive act of creating profiles of users based on their search history, brings us to the question of whether users are humans, that deserve privacy, or machines for profit? Does anonymity exist on the web? Does a person’s search history and habits online reveal their identity? Is it not illegal for these corporatiofns to create “ever-growing online profiles” about users based on their search history? The online advertising industry argues that technology is changing so rapidly that regulation is not the answer to all that data going off to who-knows-where; the problem is that the industry’s version of self-regulation is not one that most people would expect or agree with. (Madrigal 5) Hence, Madrigal states that these companies gather data without attaching it to your names; they use that data to show you ads you’re statistically more likely to click. (Madrigal 2)
    But in Cohen’s article, “The Valorization of Surveillance: Towards a Political Economy of Facebook,” this “surveillance” of users’ search history and logging information is a part of the revolution that began with social networking platforms. These social media platforms are the future of e-capitalism; or a place where excitable youth post too much information about themselves, risking exposure to stalkers or surveillance by employers, parents, the CIA and [corporations targeting consumers.] (Cohen 1) Millennials are prone to these “corporations” that exploit and “feed” off of their “openness” and vulnerability online. More so, in addition to Madrigal’s article, another form of exploitation stems from downloaded Facebook “applications,” programs and accessories developed by outside companies that collect personal information and data of Facebook users. The CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has allowed outside companies to access the millions of Facebook users for capital gain through targeting ads. This brings us to the question about whether these data collections and exploitation is a part of the “revolutionary” aspect of networking online. Zuckerberg claims that the Facebook site is “revolutionary” but many researchers beg to differ and have debunked the “hype” around Facebook, especially with its economic ties to exploiting personal information of users. For something to be truly revolutionary, it must bring about a fundamental change in the structure of the political-economic-social order and might well involve an upheaval in the arrangement of classes; a revolutionary redistribution of wealth and control throughout all classes. (Cohen 7) Networking platforms changed the way people connect and communicate across the world, but it is not exactly “revolutionary” since corporations and social media platforms are still “consolidating their power by rationalizing their modes of operation and capital through the exploitation of the lower class (online users.)

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  20. As I got on the internet to do this assignment, I’m 99.99% sure that data was collected, and frankly, before reading what Madrigal and Cohen had to say, I wouldn’t have cared if someone told me this. However, I care now in that the readings have left me wondering about what companies will do with my information. The obvious answer is that they will use my data for advertising which at first I found creepy that instagram would show me jeans from American Eagle that I was just looking at, but then I got use to it. I think that this ambivalence of care and then not caring has to do with the fact that the ability of companies to collect data and then use it is filled with obscurity. Madrigal says, “Companies’ ability to track people online has significantly outpaced the cultural norms and expectations of privacy… We don’t have a language for talking about how these companies function or how our society should deal with them.” We have been use to a certain level of privacy for years, it has been the norm where others wouldn’t be able to know another side of yourself, the one developed from online, the digital self. The fact that companies can make a portfolio of our digital selves trespasses expectations that we have had for our privacy and not everyone knows how this ability works or how to deal with them. Cohen also addresses the ambiguity of data collection by companies when she quotes Facebook and Ann Cavoukian, “… information from your profile and logs of your online activities may be used and disclosed in unexpected ways that can affect your privacy” (15). What Cohen, Facebook, and Ann Cavoukian acknowledge is that data collection from companies has no definite usage. Data collection can affect our privacy but we don’t know how. Some have argued for the need of data collection but for the restriction of the uses of this information. However, this begs the questions about the good or bad of this data collection, why is data being collected if the uses of it are restricted, and many more questions that still leave us in the dark about a new cultural norm that is unexpected.

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  21. “Up to 80% of interactive ads are sold and resold through third parties”. (4) In Madrigal’s article, there are many such kind of proofs of the massive using of data collection in ads targeting. I was very intrigued by the conclusion that the practice of data collection will change “not because of regulation or self-regulation or a user uprising”, but “because the best ads could not be targeted.” If ignore those negative feedback from the targeted people, from the perspective of ads companies, I think data collection is a genius idea to improve the profits. In Cohen’s article, he also mentioned how personal information on Facebook can benefit extremely to the ads targeting. When talking about the flyers on Facebook, he said “this approach was an economical way to advertise independent bands and publications, grassroots groups and organizations, or local cultural events, and was the beginning of a highly-effective form of viral marketing for large corporation”. (11) Thereby, from this approach, the ads could reach individuals on the Internet as well as the bigger targets such as a community or a big company. It’s way more effective then the traditional commercials between TV show episodes because there’s a large chance that the audience is not interested in the product at all. But data collection makes sure that the ads people will see are at least related to themselves more or less. However, I think such connection between individuals and ads might also be the biggest problem because the ads might be too specific and limited. People would feel uncomfortable when they feel targeted, even by the ads. I think this is why Madrigal said the best ads can not be targeted.

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  22. Upon reading both Cohen’s and Madrigal’s articles, my curiosity was particularly piqued by Cohen’s emphasis on the young age of Facebook’s ingenious creator, Mark Zuckerberg. While his status as one of the leaders of the social media world and founder of one of the most prominent social media platforms designates him as a marketing and networking genius– he is actually much more. Given that he constructed and conspired his product, Facebook, during his early adult-hood, Zuckerberg –the American college student that he is– fully understood the desires of young-adult social networkers, as he was and is one himself. Thus, given the experience and competence of Facebook’s founder(s), one can surmise that Facebook should reflect the values, inclinations, and desires of the American young-adult consumer: both the good, and the “bad.”
    As Madrigal touches on repeatedly, simply engaging mildly with a web search or social media site not only subjects the user to catered advertising, but it is often a violation of privacy. Anonymity, as the author states, “is meaningless” and serves to blind the user from the underlying “collapse of privacy” (Madrigal 8/10). Moreover, when viewing Facebook within a similar context, the ability to limit public access to one’s personal profile, as well as the access to numerable privacy and security options imply that the social platform is one that not only safe, but is one on which the user can control and monitor his/her account. Possibly reflective of Facebook’s perverted beginning, when it functioned as a site for college men to rate and view photos of college-aged women, this façade of security that Facebook provides its users may reflect a voyeuristic, “creepy (Madrigal 7/10) desire in young-adult consumers. Thus, Facebook is nosey and intrusive in nature, reflecting the nature of young-adults, while its vastness and efficiency reflect the desire to possess constant social connection and cultural acuity. In a generation fearful of loneliness and exclusion, a “vast social network with myriad connections, or lines of communication” satiates these worries and desires (Cohen 11). As Zuckerberg states that “face-to-face communication…is insufficient” and that an online, easily-accessible network in which “information can flow more efficiently” will “add ‘value’” (Cohen 11) to today’s relationships, he again channels the young-adult’s desire to communicate incessantly and readily, while also curiously advocating for the decrease of verbal interaction in place of electronic communication. Moreover, while this mentality may reflect an innate human aversion to confrontation and interaction, it may imply something more sinister: rather, the concept of formulating judgement on a person based on his/her online profile rather than on their live interaction implies that we, like the “creepy” activity tracking from Madrigal’s text, may also thrive on voyeuristically viewing the live of another whether she “know[s] its happening or not” (Madrigal 8/10).

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