Quit Creeping on Me, Big Data!

As the article “Critical Questions for Big Data – Draft” from the D2L site tells us, the era of Big Data is underway.  And I am not impressed.  I started noticing this data creeping a few years ago, and lately it seems to be taking over everything.

  • I browse New Balance running shoes on Amazon; a day later I’m on the Star Tribune website and an ad pops up enticing me to purchase New Balance running shoes.
  • I purchase medicine for our dog on PetMeds.com; suddenly ads are popping up on other sites suggesting dog treats and other fun items for me to purchase.
  • We were recently in Chicago with friends, where we posted pictures to Facebook and tagged each other. I went onto Facebook a few days later to create an event, and all of the suggested locations were ones that we had just been to in Chicago.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  It’s creepy!

In discussing this with my 22-year old son over dinner the other night, he laughed at me (nicely) and said “So, you are basically mad at the Internet for doing its job?”  OK, I guess he got me there…

But as I thought about it more, I found it very telling that as far as a 22-year old is concerned, Big Data is the “job” of the Internet.  As we see in the Cyberactivism book, this wasn’t always the case.  In its early days, the Internet was used to connect people, to open doors that had previously been closed to many, or to spur people to action on a cause.  It wasn’t used primarily to follow people around and try to sell them shoes, or to know where they were or had been, every second of every day.

As Metro State students, we have all experienced the risks of privacy breaches first-hand, as the recent hack into Metro’s website shows.  This article does a nice job of explaining the myriad ways companies and organizations of all types are using Big Data, the responsibilities of those doing the tracking, and the risks faced by those whose data is being tracked (that is, virtually everyone).

I realize these issues aren’t going away anytime soon, but they are very disturbing nonetheless.  Not disturbing enough to make me close my Facebook and Twitter accounts and stop shopping online, which I suppose makes me a bit of a hypocrite.  But I fully agree with the concerns of the D2L article’s authors: privacy incursions, invasive marketing, free speech suppression and tracking protestors are already things that can and do happen, and it’s only going to get worse.

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