Digital Tracking & the Responsibility of the User

Digital tracking has been in the news lately more than Donald Trump – who knew that any topic would ever manage that?! Or no… wait, you could easily just argue that it’s still about Donald Trump and politics, only that the focus is the tens of millions of online users that got duped. In her article about The Cambridge Analytica files, the fragment that stood out the most to me was the question writer Carole Cadwalladr posed to Wiley in regards to an analogy to bullying. Wiley responded, “’I think it’s worse than bullying because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

This aspect of data tracking shook me to my core. The reality is that 7 years ago, I had a messenger conversation with one of my smartest friends in Romania and he was showcasing to me his Master’s work. I did hear him when he said that every single keyboard stroke, even those that are deleted, in fact remain encrypted in the system. I heard him but I did not listen.

Online users range dramatically in behaviour, and some accept tracking as “a matter of fact,” while others become disenchanted and slow down… and others grow paranoid and disappear altogether. The main issue here is the ripple effect of this revelation. In my case, after my friend’s lessons began to sink in, I took a step back and converted my page from personal content to a collection of articles. In other words, I deliberately became the gal at the water fountain spouting “Hey, did you knows?” and all about content relevant to me: astronomy, nature, relevant people of the world, moving digital shorts, etc.

I also monitor the settings each time Facebook makes an update. I think they’re not going to do anymore but they had this habit of overwriting the new settings because they were expanding the menu… and the onus was on you to untick a bunch of sections. In addition, one of the tools I’ve employed since the new updates has been the careful curation of posts – some are locked to “me” (with the lock symbol), most are “for friends only,” (the two people logo) and once in a blue moon, some are “global” (with the globe logo). The latter is my way of manipulating what I want potential employers or non-friends to know about me, who I am, what I care about. Political content is something I post less and less about, and never allow it to be public. It still exists, however, computationally-speaking, as part of my “online persona,” but I am one of those people that believes that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

On a larger scale, however: in conjunction with the #deletefacebook movement, an immediate response came from Elon Musk. Both Space X and Tesla had around 2.6 million followers and Musk deleted them both within minutes of being challenged on Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg reacted shortly thereafter by first, reverting to the older model of showcasing family and friends postings, and subsequently, in a very intelligent PR move, issuing a public apology in several newspapers, on both sides of the ocean.

Is that enough though?

I don’t think so.

I think the responsibility lies with each individual. The trouble is that whether educated or not, school-taught or life-taught, millions and millions fell into the traps of silly apps, without ever bothering to retrace their steps when they were told “the results require access to a, b, c.”

Do you know what I’m referring to? If you do, don’t accept.

If you don’t, I’ll let you look it up because a lesson learned by yourself is a lesson better remembered.

I’m going to end with a data tracking anecdote: the friend mentioned above was told to use his personal computer as test hamster. By accessing the IP remotely and harvesting the full list of keyboard strokes, including the deleted ones, he found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him.

Nothing is ever lost in the digital realm, remember that.

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