Tag Archives: surveillance

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~

 

Descending into Darkness…

So…. this past week was a bit of a mess.

I experienced some major and hella expensive car issues that made me wish for a self-driving car for the first time ever despite their numerous, reported issues.

Anyway, enough about my ever-growing list of issues. Let’s dive into the Internet’s f*ckery~

The Dark Substance of the Internet

This week, discussion started off light enough with an introductory reading on alchemy and the creation and nature of this ancient magic’s digital form. This reading was also meant to provide an exercise for those of us unfamiliar with hypothes.is. (I am clearly not I will give anyone a piece of my mind anytime, in the margins or otherwise). Anyway, I found this reading to be both nostalgiac and an informative refresher on the true history of what we are delving into in this class. I made some comments here and there that are informed by my own experience with this kind of “magic” as well as my by own perspective I have been developing on burgeoning digital practices of creation and communication in the course of my thesis (check that blog for some real nonsense). In my second comment, I liken the concepts of “alternative facts” and “post-truth” to a kind of modern-day alchemical process in which words and semantics are transmogrified to horrible effect. This generated some interesting discussion on the nature of truth and reality itself. I’m not sure if I really have any answers to the questions posed about the nature of realty and of truth but I do know there are some statements and facts we all agree are “true” and create something “real” and I believe that it is important to acknowledge when opposing statements made to these self-evident truths are made not just to identify a “glitch in our matrix” but with the intent to vindicate a perspective on the  deserves no consideration let alone vindication. Contemplating the nature of truth and reality is a fun, philosophical exercise but it is important to remember that many people these days are not challenging the nature of truth and reality to pose a philosophical argument or to play devil’s advocate; they are doing it to forward some reprehensible and downright disgusting agendas that have very real consequences.

Anyway, rant over, I also want to shout-out the shout-out our “Gandalf” gave Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, I hope. It’s always cool to find out that some thing we love is actually a part of meaningful and robust tradition ^.^

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Enjoy a snappy Mustang~

In addition to exploring this reading, we also took a deeper delve into the dark upper, middle, and lower belly of online advertising. I read up on the history of the medium as well as considered the nature of “surveillance capitalism“. Horrifyingly enough, this concept is not just some Orwellian idea. (Though, perhaps it is Kafkaesque???) Essentially, we and everything we do becomes a marketable quantity for advertisers. When a system allows for this kind of advertising to occur, there is an incentive created for 24/7 surveillance. Me looking up pictures of megabats at 3 AM is very valuable information, you know??? Wouldn’t want to miss it.

Anyway, to be honest and, as I mentioned in my last post, I and I’m sure many other people, especially in my generation and younger, kind of already accept that we are constantly being monitored. If you’re living in a surveillance state and you know it, clap your hands. What many of us may not understand is what exactly is being monitored and why that information is being monitored. I think for many people, still, it is very difficult understand how advertising works in this 21-century, digital age. More, the process seems so utterly unbelievable as to be whole dismissed as “fake news”.

This thread by user @hypervisible provides a long laundry list of ludicrous facts about not only the ways we are constantly being surveilled but about the things that are actually able to be surveilled. I was asked to pick just one from this long list that stood out to be as horribly absurd and troubling but, honestly, I find myself simultaneously horrified and not horrified/surprised in the slightest by any of these facts. Certain students are encouraged by targeted ads to drop out? Of course more labor for the Capitalist machine. Jeff Bezos is deleting 1984 off Kindles remotely??? Ironic and of course. Apple and Google don’t care about their employees? Duh.

Our descent into this night has not been gentle.

Perhaps I’m jaded and disillusioned and I’m a bit too much of a nihilist at heart but so much of what is currently happening in the so-called “darkness” is something many of us have seen written bright as day on the wall for years. The Internet has always had this potential to be something so magical and to be something that can extend beyond its boundaries but it is these same qualities that seem to have made it into what it has become today. That potential and that magic came with a great responsibility that was not observed. Advertising in online spaces is only one of many evils/curses that has gotten out of hand due to a lack of foresight, oversight, and accountability. There is also this distinct lack of humanity and common decency that also seems to be propelling this evil further and further, out of the dark reaches straight into our homes and our hands. Nothing is ever going to change if we don’t decide to care. My disillusionment and resignment with the system is not merely a symptom; It’s also a cause.

I believe that there is a cure to every curse. If not a reversal, a nullification, at least. Perhaps that is the kind of magic we should care more about finding.

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Daily Digital Alchemies

This week, I shared some bot recommendations. I had the opportunity to explore bots as well as making bots in early renditions of this course. I think they are a lot of fun and can be used as a tool to tell some compelling, nonlinear narratives ^.^

Also, I got to play around with one of my fave, little sites clash. I think it’s a really simple but interesting way to see how online spaces can be used in collaboration with other mediums.

Lastly, I decided to contribute in absentia and mad late to last week’s in-class DDA. I decided to share a picture of some of the thoughtful clutter cluttering my IRL space. In this photo, I have an old & beloved stuffed cat Beanie Baby (named Dicey) on top of a pop vinyl Dementor stacked atop a stack of Edgar Allen Poe books–the go-to gift when a family member doesn’t know what to get me. Overtly, there is contrast between the Dementor & the Edgar Allen Poe books and the Beanie Baby. To me, there is a contrast between the nightmare fuel and the object that brought me comfort from my nightmares as a child being grouped together.

~Till next time~

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

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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

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“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~