Facebook has filed documents that will allow it to become a publically traded company. Its inventory consists of personal information. Their primary profits come from selling ad space. Advertisers use keys words and details like locations, activities and employment.
Companies have used the information the social media giant is selling for people battling for child custody or defending themselves in criminal cases. Facebook data has also been used to sentence criminals. In her article, “Facebook is Using You” By Lori Andrews, Andrews states, “The Internal Revenue Service searches Facebook and Myspace for evidence of tax evaders’ income and whereabouts, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has been known to scrutinize photos and posts to confirm family relationships or weed out sham marriages.”
Facebook ads are targeted via your likes and dislikes. If you like movies, a movie theater add will pop up on your side bar or if you like coffee the nearest coffee bar will appear.
Facebook also implements something called tracking cookies which never expire. This allows third party applications such as the “Like Button” and websites and stores to use your data and browsing information to place ads relevant to what you are currently doing online.
Facebook considers that if you visit a website while logged into a Facebook account you are broadcasting to your friends what you are doing or where you are going online.
Data aggregation can impact prospective employment opportunities. One study indicated that 70 percent of human resource professionals have rejected candidates based on online data.
Data aggregation can determine whether or not you are approved for a home mortgage or a credit card on the credit history of others with similar interests. According to Andrewss, “When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”
According to Andrews, “Even though laws allow people to challenge false information in credit reports, there are no laws that require data aggregators to reveal what they know about you. If I’ve Googled “diabetes” for a friend or “date rape drugs” for a mystery I’m writing, data aggregators assume those searches reflect my own health and proclivities. Because no laws regulate what types of data these aggregators can collect, they make their own rules.”
In her article, Andrews states that a company named NebuAd has installed hardware in six internet service providers that monitors internet activities for six months NebuAd copied emails, web searches and purchase information that belonged to some 400,000 users.
There are also companies such as Healthline Networks that sell information about health issues such as bipolar disorder and anxiety.
According to a 2008 Consumer Reports poll of 2000 people, it was determined that 93 percent of people agree that Internet companies should ask for permission before using personal information and 72 percent wanted to opt out of online tracking. A 2009 Princeton Survey found that out of a thousand people, 69 percent agreed that the United States should pass a do-not-track law. Another study stated the 20 percent of its participants said that there needed to be a tool that would stop internet companies from displaying advertisements. Fourteen percent said they would like to prevent websites from displaying advertisements.
Andrews’s main weakness is the fact that she uses old data. The data she displays is at least four years old. Most technology news is considered “dated” after a period of three months.
I believe Data aggregation can be used to help various companies and organizations such as movie companies like Netflix who recommend movies based on what other users with similar interests have watched, or a basketball coach using information from previous games to improve his players’ performances. Data aggregation could also help law enforcement agencies to track and help prosecute alleged criminals due to what search terms they have used, and where they have browsed online.
I believe large scale data aggregation is a violation of civil liberties. Laws allow people to challenge false information on credit reports and credit checks, but there are no laws to protect against data aggregators.
European countries have already passed legislation that gives people the right to know what data companies have collected regarding their habits, their likes, dislikes, and how they use the internet on a daily basis. The United States needs to implement laws to prevent companies like Facebook from selling information about its citizens.
Data aggregation should be outlawed, or at the very least, laws should be passed to give individuals the right to monitor what is being collected about their personal lives. There are those who argue that a decrease in advertising will lead to a decrease in revenue for companies and a decrease in free services. I believe this is false.
Hulu, an internet streaming company has two models, the free version and the paid version. Both feature advertising and both use data aggregation. This proves that data companies will continue to use data mining, even when a service is being paid for by the consumer.
In summary, data mining and aggregation companies are extremely sophisticated at analyzing consumer interests and browsing habits. Social networks such as Facebook and Google are helping by selling information about its consumers to data companies.This leads us to the question of where large corporations will look for profits at the expensive of privacy next.
As George Orwell said, Big brother is watching.