Is Data Tracking evil? A few thoughts on this

This post is inspired by Codebreaker Season 1’s last episode by Ben Johnson from the Market Place.

Is Data Tracking or/and Data Collecting evil? While the title sounds a bit macro, I think we here all have something to do with it.

Before digging into the problem, I would like to take you back in March 2018. Let’s first talk about how Cambridge Analytica illegally use data collected from up to 87M Facebook users in favor of Trump and why this is entitled to a Facebook’s scandal rather than CA’s.

To be fair, it all comes down to the fact that Facebook failed to protect information of its users?

A researcher at Cambridge who happened to build a Quiz App, anticipated by 270k people, then happened to find a security hole in Facebook API which leads to a total of 8.7M users’ information was leaked1. Is it that simple? That Facebook failed? Or is it more because User Privacy never made it to the top priorities of Mark Zukerberg’s list? Or is that we are so careless with our own information?

Take a few minutes listening to this and figure out what the answer for yourself:

I think many of you would agree that this is nothing new, basically a Conflict of Interest. While any corporation would pursue its top priorities which are maximizing profit, increasing or at least maintaining stock value. And especially until now, bartering information is still considered nontaxable, off the record transaction by most accounting standards2, it should be quite convenient to track, collect and store users data.

Alright, still seems not our problem? I figured there would be three types of reaction to this:

  • First type: Immediately reset their accounts, did every research to make sure they’re not on the list, even left Facebook in an attempt to find a safer alternative and mostly come back within a day or two.
  • The second type would act like nothing ever happened. Either because they’re busy posting pictures on Facebook or just don’t think it would make any difference cuz they can’t plug off from Facebook, other SNS, Google, Amazon…well basically won’t survive without the Internet. I have to say I am one of them.
  • The third type which I personally workship are the ones who actually don’t care cuz they’re living off the SNS.

The scary thing is that I guess the second type is the majority among us.

It is simply not my problem. That’s our attitude towards online privacy problem.

I would say not yet our problem. Now, let’s go back to the Podcast, what’s in it that has been hunting me for this whole week?

The podcast begins with an ordinary story. You searched something online this day and the next day you saw an Ad on Facebook about that thing. Wait, stay on this for a second. Have you ever wondered that the Ads sometime might know your tastes and needs better than you do? Predatory Advertising – that’s a controversial keyword for you now. (I should not be picking side if I want to work for Ad-tech right 😂😂). No one really knows what sort of information, how and how much of your information is being exploited to serve the purpose of Predatory Advertising (Shhh, I’m not putting this in my resume) and when horrible things that happened to Mike could happen to you.

Mike’s story

Mike’s daughter – Ashley passed away in a car accident in 2013. It was a tragedy for his family. But the pain goes on as a year later, he received a letter which read: “To Mike – who lost his daughter in a car accident” and below introduced a company called Office Max’s information. It turned out that information from his note including his daughter’s name has traveled from a photo frame’s shop called Things Remember to a Data dealer, passed on to Office Max and finally landed in his doorstep. And one more thing to notice is that the note is written before 2013. That terrified me, and it must be horrible for Mike and his family.

This story proved how far has data-tracking evolved. And this makes me reconsider the role of Big Data in reforming Ad-tech. So is data tracking evil? I would say there would be no absolute answer to the question. But rather than that, as Hamlet once said:

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

1.
The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, explained with a simple diagram. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17151916/facebook-cambridge-analytica-trump-diagram. Published May 2, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2018.
2.
B. Laney D. Infonomics: How to Monetize, Manage, and Measure Information as an Asset for Competitive Advantage. Routledge; 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *