Tag Archives: data tracking

Privacy Is A Privilege?

“We are paying for everything right now. The currency we’re trading is data.” ~ Anne-Marie Scott

So, this week the polar vortex finally descended upon us and swallowed us whole in a show of might that only emphasized how insignificant we are–

Actually, class just got snowed out cause global warming is a thing and it’s screwing with the weather. What are you gonna do??? Pass Ocasi0-Cortez’s Green Deal???

Anyway, despite this week’s unfortunate weather, some of us were still able to meet online and continue shedding some light on the dark practices and conjurings happening just below the web’s  seemingly glossy surface. To help guide our discussion on the increasingly complex issues of privacy online, data tracking, real vs. fake, etc., we had Anne-Marie Scott (@ammienoot) and her insight and expertise.

Don’t You Forget About Me The Light

In this week’s Studio Visit with Anne-Marie, a lot of discussion revolved around data protection and privacy in online spaces. In the European Union, where Anne-Marie is located, there are specific regulations put in place that decide what information about you can be collected or used by entities that wish to use the Internet as a platform for their content. These regulations are known as the GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) and control the flow and collection of data in the EU. There must be transparency if an entity is tracking your data for any reason and entities are not allowed to target specific persons with the data collected or else there could be severe penalties. Essentially, privacy online in the EU is being valued as a right rather than this private information being valued for financial gain. It’s an entirely different ideology than the one in America, where regulations are often viewed as hindrances to innovation and capital.

This contrast of belief is a highly contentious subject (as are most subjects where $$$ is involved). To be honest, I can understand both sides of the issue. Like, I get that it is through a lot of this data tracking and targeted advertising that many platforms we consider “free” make the revenue necessary to keep the sites accessible. If that revenue were to disappear or be severely cut, these site could no longer operate as virtually free entities. To a degree, I’m sympathetic. When my data is not being used for inherently questionable purposes, I admittedly don’t have a problem with its collection. Especially if it is providing the funding necessary to keep news organizations in circulation or to help creators online make the profit they need to continue making cool things. But, unfortunately, this kind of control over my data is not guaranteed in the current system in the US. Right now, it’s the “wild west” out here. A consumer free-for-all. A Capitalist wet-dream.

Apart from a complete and utter paradigm shift, I’m not sure what actions could be taken to change this system in the US. Especially under the current administration (that killed net neutrality ’cause this whole “everyone has equal and equitable access to the Internet” sounds a lot like Communism >.>). Something suggested was paying extra for additional security that could ensure privacy; this is something many users seem willing to do, especially as they learn more about just how much of their data is being collected and used for less-than-what-should-be-legal purposes. That said, this brings into questions difficult issues such as privilege and access. As Anne-Marie so eloquently put it, “Privacy is a privilege.” I think it’s hard for many people, myself included, to understand what a privilege it is just to be able to discuss a subject like privacy. As we learned in our last Studio Visit with Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible), surveillance is nothing new to so many persons from marginalized or vulnerable groups of the population. And, I wonder if it would still be a big deal in big tech organizations if it were only affecting certain consumers. Also, as Anne-Marie noted, making privacy a privilege one has to pay for may only further segment the population, not only along social lines but also along class lines. Again, the most vulnerable would be the victims.

If anything, this discussion highlighted how privacy and online data tracking are not issues exclusive to themselves; instead there is much intersection. Many complex issues such as class, access, race, etc. intersect with privacy and data tracking. There is no simple solution for the problem–because there is not only one problem. There are many.

That said, Anne-Marie did suggest the GDPR could bode well for the future of many online services. Since these different services already have to alter their operations for implementation in the EU, why not implement these altered operations worldwide? They’re already going through all the effort, right? I’m a bit pessimistic about this suggestion, tbh. But, I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised. Also, Anne-Marie mentioned that some of these data collecting practices can be used for the creation of very helpful platforms–such as Wikipedia. An open-source platform like Wikipedia allows for conversation and community to develop around information which can allow for better information in the end. As many of us stated this week, it is the sense of community online spaces allow to develop that really redeems the Internet and makes endeavors to better and more fairly facilitate community and collaboration online worthwhile.

Ultimately, I believe the Internet is a clusterf*ck of #problematic issues to say the least but I also want to believe cue the X-Files theme that it can be this place for free and creative enterprise and interchange to occur. There is so much potential for such a space to exist if we are able to elect people into positions of power and influence who believe the Internet’s best qualities are community, collaboration, and creative enterprise. In America, at least, action like this needs to be taken or else change will not occur. I firmly believe that. It’s going to take an invigorated and self-actualized public to have meaningful impact on these issues. I think that privacy and data tracking are, of course, issues of personal responsibility as well. But, also, I don’t think it’s right that the burden to protect data and privacy should fall fully on individuals. The truth of the matter is that the general person is not informed of nor educated about these issues–which is another aspect of this that is important: education. In fact, it may be the first step that needs to be taken before others actions can be carried out. In this digital age, digital literacy should be as important as any other subject in school. When not “up-to-par”, this lack of education has a real-world, measurable impact on individuals. As I’ve stated before, I truly believe that education is what will always light the way. If anything, our efforts should be focused on how we can provide everyone with both access to such essential information and thorough explanation of that information so that informed decisions can be made.

I think classes like ours are igniting the spark.

match

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Bonus Post

This week, in an extra post, I shared a resource I think could be helpful in developing digital literacy skills. The resource is a series on Youtube made by Crash Course. The series explores Media Literacy which intersects with many of the issues we explore in our own course. How to navigate a post-truth world is a focus of the series as well as how to become more informed about these unseen practices going on behind our screens. I think it’s a great tool to have in our library.

Daily Digital Alchemies

(So, full disclosure, these were kind of done between posting weeks but I’m putting them towards this post because I’m having a busy life this week and I need to do this >.< I’ll work on managing this!)

In my first DDA, I posted a screenshot of my screen use which my phone has been tracking since an update or two ago???. I’m a little horrified at myself but I also think it could be worse–and has been. I’m either getting better at managing my screen time or I’m too busy to even look at my phone these :)))))) #gradlife #illcompletethisthesisordietrying

For my second DDA, I put my good ol’ giphy skills to use and giffed the first few sentences of my thesis. One copy is “disemvoweled”. I used a different site than the one suggested on the DDA though because I couldn’t access that site due to Adblocker??? Anyway, I hope you enjoy my avant-garbage~ There will be more to come.

~Till Next Time~

Your Fave Pyro

Developing Digital Literacy (One Video at a Time)~

Hey~

Welcome to this week’s bonus post ^.^ I’m going to try to keep it short & sweet!

A big topic in class related to privacy, data tracking, and navigating online spaces as a whole is that of digital literacy. Data tracking, learning algorithms, and surveillance capitalism have largely been allowed to propagate and perpetuate and make a butt-ton of money off of all of us due in large part to a lack of regulation. Unfortunately, much of this has gone unregulated not because people do not care but because they do not know they need to care in the first place. A vast majority of the population, especially in the US, is simply unaware of the dangers online spaces pose to their privacy and other personal information. Most people don’t know that when a website is free, that means they are the product.

In order to enact meaningful change in regards to imposing regulations on the conduct of these digital entities, the public needs to speak up and elect officials who can make changes. But, in order for the public to speak up on these issues, they need to be informed and they need to know why it matters. To help better inform people at all levels on the issues affecting their relationship to the Internet and the Internet’s relationship to user information, I highly recommend Crash Course on Youtube’s Media Literacy series.

The series covers not only many of the topics we’ve already discussed so far in class but also discusses the intersection some of these concerns have with others. I think this series provides users with a good foundation from which to further develop their own stance on the issue. This source, too, I believe can be helpful for educating even younger users on the many issues affecting our interactions with the Internet.

I would give this resource a solid 9/10? There’s always room for improvement and I’m sure people have their own opinions on “educational Youtube”. Overall, at least, I think this is a useful tool to keep in our library.

More, I firmly believe that education is the spark that will light up the darkness of the web like a clear night sky.

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~Till Next Time~

In the Algorithm We Trust (But Should We????)

Welcome back to hell~

This week, we dove deeper into the darkness of the web and the practices of those who use the web as a tool for mass surveillance. Topics in this week’s discussion include 1) data tracking, 2) digital redlining, and 3) surveillance capitalism. Light stuff, I know.

Anyway, I suggest you grab a drink of your choice and strap in for my *hot take* on some of these issues~

Data Tracking, Digital Redlining, & Surveillance Capitalism Oh My!

So, this week, we got the ball rolling with a video on how advertising practices in online spaces are quickly turning the Internet into a dystopian nightmare that puts Orwell to shame. This video, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads”, by rockstar goddess Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is one I shared in a prior blog post and is one I think explains the ramifications of current online data tracking practices in a very accessible way for most people. More importantly, I believe this video really emphasizes just how little regulation there is in place to stop Big Business from buying and selling our attention as if it were any other product and not something integral to life as we know it.

I think it’s important to understand that our “robot overloads” are not some far off possibility but a real-time inevitability. The world will end “not with a bang but a whimper” and all that. The Panopticon very clearly does not need to be a physical place in order to operate. It’s a state of mind and a state of being. In her talk, Tufekci mentions the idea of “surveillance capitalism”, which is the monetization of our online movements for marketing purposes, and the of “persuasive architecture” which is a structuring of a space like the Internet to best capture attention and so maximize profits. These concepts are important when discussing exactly why the current design of the Internet is not optimal for users. When private interests become more important that user benefits, I think there is a fundamental problem with that system, especially if the system is meant to be of public use. Essentially, we’re all experiencing a different Internet which can cause large rifts in information and knowledge between users which easily spills out into the real world.

For me, it is these implications that most concern me. Like, I don’t necessarily care about seeing ads for a pair of shoes I want all over the place but I care immensely more about the divide in knowledge this personalization of space for optimal monetization is causing. Especially when we’re talking about the Internet in a country whose citizens often define themselves along partisan lines like the U.S, these divisions become very concerning very fast. At least, for me. I think a lot of my classmates and most people are quite apathetic towards this issue. This, though, may be due in large part to a lack of informed consent and digital literacy.

The idea that digital literacy is essential to activating the public in order to enact meaningful change in regards to this issue is one that was discussed in our Twitter chat on Tuesday night. Which was uplifting to see. Though, even as a huge proponent of such measures, I remain skeptical of the effectiveness of them. It’s just, in this current sociopolitical climate, I don’t see how meaningful change has even a tiny chance. We’re more divided now than ever, it seems. Still, I want to be hopeful and I believe we can be a part of the movement towards meaningful change in this arena–it’s just going to require a lot of consistency in the face of overwhelming and, in many cases, willful ignorance.

There are many people out there, like Tufekci, who are trying to enact meaningful change in their own ways. In addition to watching Tufekci’s video, we also had the opportunity to have a studio visit with Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) who is an outspoken voice on the subject of digital redlining as well as on the many other absurd ways in which we are being surveilled online. Digital redlining is basically the old redlining just repackaged in digital form and perhaps several times worse. (You can check out my older post on the subject.)

What I found most interesting from our talk with Gilliard is how truly privileged the notion of “I don’t have anything to hide” is as well as how utterly absurd. Even if that were true, so what??? That doesn’t give any entity the right to invade your privacy at a whim. More, it doesn’t give anyone the right to surveil someone who is not a criminal nor suspected of any criminal activity. It blew my mind when Gilliard talked about how our license plates are constantly being collected and cataloged and so that our regular movements can be tracked and compiled into a record.

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Again, this is happening to all of us–not just being suspected of wrongdoing. It’s crazy to me and, like Gilliard said, the burden to prove I don’t need to be under surveillance should not be mine. It’s antithetical to everything this country was founded upon. And, it cannot be stressed enough, this kind of surveillance is not innocuous. It can very real world impact that affects agency, access, and opportunities in life. That’s far too much power to go unregulated and yet it does.

I found the idea of “permission-less innovation” to be another eye-opening concept. Essentially, the idea here is that questionable/concerning entities like Uber or whatnot are allowed to exist simply because they were developed and created before regulations existed to stop their existence. It’s this kind of weird chicken/egg problem. The word innovation somehow becomes a magic word that lets companies be dicks because nobody knew such a dick could exist until they popped up.

It’s honestly less discerning than I thought it would be to be living in a Black Mirror episode but it’s still really horrifying the more I let myself think about it. Which is probably why I don’t.

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Like, Brett Gaylor (@remixmanifesto) is another researcher looking into the ethical and overarching issues with online data tracking. He’s one of the main contributors and creators of the Do Not Track series which explores how data tracking invades our daily lives in a very personalized way. Though I knew it was coming, when the first episode showed the town I lived in and the current temperature, I was highly perturbed. Hella freaked out, tbh. It’s one thing to read and hear about how easily it is to track you online but a whole other thing to see it so clearly demonstrated. That little detail is honestly hat freaked me out the most, more than the information on the web of connections between the different sites I visit, because it’s really not a small detail. It makes me feel unsafe.

Again, it’s one thing to subconsciously understand you live in a surveillance state and a whole other thing to be shown evidence that you are being surveilled.

Overall, I found this week to be a very disconcerting week. For the most part, I believe I am fairly resigned to being surveilled. But, this week, I found out that there are many things about living in a surveillance state/economy that I am actually very not okay with. Before this week, I wanted to believe that education could help alleviate this issue. I really did. But, now, I’m not so sure that is enough. We really need to mobilize and activate ourselves in order to get people into positions of power who can facilitate meaningful change–whatever that may be. I’m still not sure on what should be done.

I do know what you call Chicken Little when the sky is falling though:

Right. Awfully right.

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Out of My Depth

In addition to this overview, I also wrote a post about a site called “Am I Unique?” which allows users to see how their browser fingerprints compare to others. To be honest, I feel like looking into this issue only created more questions for me. If anything, sites like this make it abundantly clear why digital literacy is very necessary. A basic knowledge of some coding practices would also be very nice. If anyone has anything else to add about browser fingerprints, please feel free to provide that info in a comment on the post! It’s be greatly appreciated.

Regarding these additional posts, I would like to express some concerns I have. Mainly, I feel that we were not properly informed about these additional posts. I understand that class went late last week but I do not think a brief paragraph at the bottom of the weekly class post was enough to fully explain what is expected. Also, I wish there was more of a discussion in general about adding them at all. I understand they are going to serve a larger purpose but two additional posts on the topics asked for is a lot of work because these topics are not easy or familiar to many of us and require a time commitment to adequately analyze. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel a little out of my depth here and could use a lot more guidance on the subject matter. I don’t mean for this to be a criticism but I did want to make my concerns known.

Daily Digital Alchemies

This week, I shared how art inspires me to create and think critically from different perspectives. I find myself heavily inspired by the messages encoded in art.

Also, I shared style icon Wednesday Addams and some words to live by. Honestly, I dare a man to try and control me in any way. I’m not trapped in a man’s world. Men are trapped in my world.

Back At It With Twitter

So, here we are again at the top of the semester, looking at my lacking Twitter activity:

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Don’t worry. I’ll find my groove as the semester picks up. Look forward to more 3 AM tweets as I continue working late into the night on my thesis :))))))))

~Till next time~

@myFBIagent Till always~

 

I’m Unique…Like Everyone Else

If anything, delving into online data tracking has made it readily apparent just how much of our information is, well, readily apparent. Just about every application you could conceive of using is tracking you to some extent. Don’t believe me? Sounds far-fetched? Well, there are plenty of sites you can explore that will break down for you how different forms of online data tracking work.

This week, were provided a list of different sites in the class blog post that let you view how your own online activity is being tracked. Now, I know this post also said not to use sources shared in the class post for any additional blog posts. But, in this case, only brief summary of these sites were provided. Also, most people will not have the opportunity to explore every site more thoroughly. So, given those circumstances, it seems it would be helpful to have posts exploring the sites in more detail.

Anyway, justification for this post provided, let me get into what “Am I Unique?” does!

The site “Am I Unique?” allows users to discover how identifiable their own “device/browser fingerprint” is online as well as explore how comparable their fingerprint is to other users around the globe. Device/browser fingerprinting is “the systematic collection of information about a remote device, for identification purposes.” This kind of tracking seems like an inherent capability on most devices/browsers. The goal of this project seems to be to make people more aware of “cookieless monsters”. See, device/browser fingerprints are not a kind of tracking cookie or composed of many tracking cookies. Instead, it seems like a device/browser fingerprint is generated by you just connecting to a server. According to “Browser Fingerprinting: What Is It and What Should You Do About It?” by PixelPrivacy, “when you connect to the internet on your laptop or smartphone, your device will hand over a bunch of specific data to the receiving server about the websites you visit.” From your fingerprint, any interested party can find out all about your browser usage, operating systems, plugins, timezone, languages, screen resolution, as well as any other of your active settings. Essentially, your fingerprint will reveal what your computer looks like to someone else.

While this seems highly concerning to me, “Am I Unique?” points out that this fingerprint is a “double-edge sword”. Fingerprints can be used to fight fraud and hijacking and confirm that a user is a legitimate one. But, they can also be used to create a profile of you for advertisers as well as exploit you in other ways through targeted attacks. PixelPrivacy states, “Websites bulk-collect a large set of data of visitors in order to later use it to match against browser fingerprints of known users.” Even if your fingerprint isn’t used right away, it can be stored in a system for future targeting by a given entity.

And, this is all legal practice in the US right now.

More, this is not even the worst of it. There’s canvas fingerprinting as well (which deals with HTML5 coding–so I didn’t get too into it because I’m not familiar enough with the terminology). Essentially, your fingerprint is written into this code and freely accessible if you know where to look. The thing you want to look for is called the “canvas element”. I recommend checking out the wiki article if you want to know more about the mechanics of how this system works.

Anyway, “Am I Unique?” allows users to see for themselves how easy it is for their fingerprint to be accessed. Mainly, the site shows user what kind of data points are generated by their fingerprints.

For example, this is the overview of my fingerprint:

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The site breaks down how much of the sites you use are “unique” and kind of shows you how a site would collect this kind of info so they can target specific groups of people (like Windows 10 users). The site also provides some charts so you can see how specific parts of your user profile further break down.

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In this chart, you can see the browser break down of all the people who have used “Am I Unique?” around the world. It’s a little disconcerting and by a little, I mean a lot. You can also see the languages people search in:

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I like this one because it looks like a spider

It’s honestly wild just how much information about you can be extrapolated in like 30 seconds if that. I mean, this is just a broad overview of all the information that could so easily be accessed for any reason by anyone interested.

What’s very concerning about this kind of fingerprinting is that there is really nothing that can be done to totally eliminate it. If you want to use the Internet, you’re going to have to accept some minimum invasion of privacy. For most of us, it’s a massive invasion though. We don’t know to manage the online tracking of our data. More, we don’t even know what and how much is being tracked. For those concerned about their device/browser fingerprint, PixelPrivacy recommends: 1) Using private browsing methods (like going incognito) 2) Using plugins that block ads like AdBlock Plus, Disconnect, etc. 3) Disabling JavaScript & Flash 4) Installing Anti-Malwate Software 5) Using the TOR browser (if you’re serious) and 6) Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), of course. Now, all of these things have their downsides and can severely impact your Internet browsing experience (i.e cause slower loading times, interrupt the functioning of sites, etc.). It is important to weigh one’s concerns against the risks before making any decisions in this area.

Of course, what is most important is that we continue to try and educate ourselves on important online issues like data tracking and online privacy as well as continue to develop our digital literacy practices. Sites like “Am I Unique?” provide a lens through which we can better understand and conceptualize important issues like this that are, unfortunately and nefariously, often hidden from view. I highly recommend checking out this site in order to learn more about the importance of one’s browser fingerprint and about what this fingerprint can be used for.

~Till next time~

This Post Goes Out to My FBI Agent (Thanks for Always Being There)~

fbiselfie

mulderscreaming

How my FBI agent probably looks most of the time~ I’ve missed you over the shutdown T_T

Anyway….

I’m back and better than ever.

Hope you haven’t missed me too much 😉 I’ll try to make up for lost time and get right into the snarky commentary~

Big Brother is Watching You

usausausausausausausa

“How do we know who, what to trust online anymore?…What keeps you up at night or worried about your own internet activity?”

I see we’re starting off light this semester.

Anyway, what doesn’t concern me about using the internet anymore??? It seems like every other day we learn about some new way the government has been tracking our internet activity or about some third-party company or multi-million dollar company (here’s looking at you Zuckerburg >.>) making stupid amounts money selling our data to the highest bidder. That was the story last year and it’s still the story this year. Third-party tracking, learning algorithms, privacy–the issues with all of those things are only getting worse as the internet becomes more ubiquitous and people become more inclined/manipulated to plug-in. The internet is becoming more convenient. It’s more convenient to go paperless with most information these days, to auto-save passwords, to venmo, to group chat, etc. The decision to forego privacy for convenience is becoming more and more voluntary, the methods driving this shift decidedly more and more nefarious.

Tbh, though, I don’t find myself as concerned with being tracked these days. It just seems like such a given, now. Of course, someone or some corporation is surveilling me and making money off of it. Of course some shady entity is using the internet to manipulate not only people but concepts like reality and truth. It’s so easy. Really, check out how stupid easy it is:

These are 2 of my fave videos of all time and I share them a lot~

Truth doesn’t matter anymore. Facts don’t matter. Unless they’re alternative facts…. While I’m a strong believer that the great thing about facts is that they don’t change whether you believe in them or not, an increasingly horrifying number of people seem to be of the mind that facts are things one can choose to arbitrarily believe in or deny, as if facts have somehow rumors or hearsay. It’s a troubling ideology that has only been galvanized and perpetuated and even weaponized (here’s looking at you Russia >.>) by internet intervention.

Rather than the internet being this place for creative enterprise and the free exchange of ideas, it has become this thriving cesspool of misinformation and bigotry that has gained a sphere of IRL influence that is expanding at an alarming rate.

And, it’s not very clear to me if more or less regulation will alleviate any of these issues. There’s never been a space like the internet before and it’s challenging to make decisions about the space. To make matters worse, many of the people in positions to make decisions about this space are older persons who, quite frankly, don’t even have a basic knowledge of how to convert a Word doc to a PDF or an idea of the different between Facebook and the internet let alone the knowledge necessary to pose meaningful sanctions on what information third-party servers can make a market of.

This is only a small curation of the many issues with the internet I have that keep me and many other people up at night. While I really want to be hopeful and believe that the internet can be this place for the democratization of information and this place for creative and free exchange, the current reality complicates this idealistic vision and the current sociocultural and political environment does not seem supportive of it. There are these little pocket realms where these ideals seem embraced–AO3, closed-species communities, select Reddit and Twitter threads, etc.–but for the most part, there is a lot to be desired.

All this said, I think it is more important than ever that media literacy and digital literacies be an integral part of education. Despite everything, I am a firm believer that education and knowledge bring the understanding and empathy necessary to overcome any kind of ignorance or intolerance and really instigate change. Facts and truth will never matter again unless we are actively teaching people that they do. We don’t have to be the loudest voice–just the most consistent. Hope may be the spark but education is what keeps that light at the end of the tunnel bright and burning.

To me, alchemy is nothing more than the pursuit of knowledge, digital alchemy the pursuit of digital knowledge. It is also the pursuit for best practice, making it an ever-changing kind of “magic”. But, above all else, it is meant to be illuminating. This semester, I hope we are able to cast a little light of our own~

I’ve been feeling rather “dim” lately and I could really use a little light.

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I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the…

If you need a little pick-me-up after such a bleak post, I highly suggest you check out my own personal map of the internet and my interactions with it. While I’ve still got my reservations, I think I express my hopes for the internet in an articulate, albeit embellished and a little bit pretentious I quoted Van Gogh like an assh*ole???, way.I’m not a total killjoy make some noise just mostly one–it’s kind of my #brand~ ^.^

Sweet Screams

Zero stars????? What’s a girl gotta do to get some stars??? Go give me some love~

Daily Digital Alchemies

I made a gif in Giphy for #dda238 and for #dda240, I took a swing at NJ Transit ^.^ one of my fave #pastimes~

~Till next time~