Beyond the a 2007 presentation I did and the constant influx of articles I see on internet privacy (ie. how Google and Facebook are demolishing it), I have no idea how dangerous facts about me – leaked into the cyber-sphere – really are.
The “get over it” part is what hooked me, as I see a lot of people daily tirading against the antics of Facebook and Google.
Stein checked a number of major data-mining firms to see what they have on him. After all, he is a tech savvy national writer with quite the cyber footprint. Sharing what he finds from each agency, Joel realized every company has a number of erroneous facts:
RapLeaf, a data-mining company that was recently banned by Facebook because it mined people’s user IDs, has me down as a 35-to-44-year-old married male with a graduate degree living in L.A. But RapLeaf thinks I have no kids, work as a medical professional and drive a truck. RapLeaf clearly does not read my column in TIME.
Worrying zealously over Facebook’s newest privacy change only diverts yourself from reality. By screaming at the scapegoat (bold emphasis is mine), you blame FB and Google for your own surfing habits:
This data is collected in lots of ways, such as tracking devices (like cookies) on websites that allow a company to identify you as you travel around the Web and apps you download on your cell that look at your contact list and location. You know how everything has seemed free for the past few years? It wasn’t. It’s just that no one told you that instead of using money, you were paying with your personal information.
Do we need to be afraid of bundles of intermittent information about us – information that we as individuals chose to put out into the web – being sold off so we receive specifically targeted ads as we surf the web?
The article points out how most people do not seem creeped out by direct-marketing junk mail, which we receive after those companies buy the exact same information to use for their targeted mailings.
Ultimately, I agree with Stein that the more I know, the less worried I am about mining:
“There’s a lot of fear that holds people back from doing things they would otherwise do online. This is part of the cost of privacy uncertainty. People are a little wary of trying out some new site or service if they’re worried about giving their information,” Felten says.
(Stein:)[...O]ddly, the more I learned about data mining, the less concerned I was. Sure, I was surprised that all these companies are actually keeping permanent files on me. But I don’t think they will do anything with them that does me any harm. There should be protections for vulnerable groups, and a government-enforced opt-out mechanism would be great for accountability. But I’m pretty sure that, like me, most people won’t use that option.
For instance, I know that as an adult and member of our society, the default setting for my life is public, and being private would take great great effort.
Instead of fearing what these data mining companies are trying to find out in order to sell me shoes, I am much more afraid of the information I put on Twitter or Facebook about myself that could make me the target of an assault by someone. Like an actual person, not an ad.
An actual human, not a computer algorithm, right here in my own community, can be tracking the very things I say on social networking sites or my blog. The result of that tragedy would not be the fault of Twitter, Facebook, Google, Craigslist, or Apple… the social media are the tools, not the problem.
Our underestimating of how what we choose to say and pictures we choose to share can hurt us is a much bigger problem. That is what ultimately puts us in harm’s way.
Like usual, however, we would much rather sue someone else and play the victim when things go wrong than to think daily about our own accountability and consequences.
Surfing the ‘net, and not worrying about it,