Information Theft?

I found both the readings from Eli Praiser’s The Filter Bubble and Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom to be quite interesting and insightful. In The Filter Bubble, Eli Praiser described how the likes of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and the duo of Larry Page and Sergey Brin went on to create some of the Internets’ most visited and most intelligent websites, in Amazon, Facebook, and Google. You may be wondering why I indicated that these are some of the most intelligent websites on Web 2.0. The reason that they are “intelligent” is that the creators of these websites used a type of artificial intelligence called machine learning, used in “building systems that tuned themselves, through feedback.” (Praiser, pg. 27) It was through this use of machine learning that allows Amazon to make product recommendations for us, Facebook to “know” which stories we want to see in our news feed, and Google to find the most relevant and personalized results from individuals web searches. A large part of how the personalization on these websites works is through the collection of data from its users. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google all track every move that we make on the web while logged into their site, from every link we click on to every other site we visit. There are also numerous low-profile companies such as Acxiom and BlueKai collect data on all internet users, ranging from their current address to whether they own a dog or cat, then sell it to other companies. (Praiser, pg. 43) Near the end of the chapter Praiser presented a great statement relating this data collection to the personalization of internet sites today, stating that “your behavior is now a commodity, a tiny piece of a market that provides a platform for the personalization of the whole internet.” (Praiser, pg. 45) This statement both intrigues me and also causes a slight sense of uneasiness, as i’m sure there is a vast amount of information about myself out there, all for sale to the highest bidder.

In Chapter 3 of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Morozov describes how the freedom of information created by the Internet causes people within authoritarian societies to care less about politics, as they prefer to use this freedom to consume what Morozov calls “cheap entertainment”. (Pg. 81) Near the end of Chapter 3 he introduces the “Trinity of Authoritarianism,” which includes propaganda, censorship, and surveillance. (Morozov, pg. 82) He addresses that through the use of the Internet, the government, like websites such as Facebook and companies such as Acxiom, is able to keep track of what Internet users in their country are viewing and doing on the internet. Allowing companies to have access to personal Internet use information is one thing, but an authoritarian government having it is all the more scarier.

These readings have lead me to several questions. First and foremost, is it right that companies such as Acxiom are able to sell personal information to companies behind our backs? Also, how much right does our government and others alike have in tracking our Internet use information? Where is the line drawn?

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1 Response to Information Theft?

  1. emilyod17 says:

    Although it is scary to think about how much personal information that companies like Acxiom have access to, it is important to recognize that when one uses an interface, such as Facebook, one is signing off on a Privacy Policy that delegates a lot of free reign on what Facebook can use and sell to its advertisers for profit: “Facebook is not just a website. It is also a service for sharing your information on Facebook-enhanced applications and websites” (Facebook, 2009). In this way, Facebook users are given fair warning that everything they do from here on out will not be considered “private” so long as they are a part of this social media network. One must take it upon themselves to weight the costs and benefits of using a platform like Facebook,, and whether or not it is worth the price that it comes at. Facebook is a prime example of “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Facebook was created to turn a profit, and in doing so, Zuckerberg sells the information of his one billion users to better target advertisements to key audiences that have specific preferences. And what better way to find out someone’s preferences than by tracking their internet usage? The same goes with Amazon and Google.

    The question you pose about government’s ability to track Internet use information is quite interesting, because the Internet does pose a threat to authoritarian rule. Countries like China restrict the use of Internet to its people because the freedom of information would be a threat to the rule of those in power. Should governments have a right to succumb to this kind of censorship? Absolutely not. But it is a sad truth that those in government are afraid of losing their power, and will do anything to prevent that from occurring. There cannot be a clear line drawn between what is right for the government to monitor and what is off limits. It seems pretty obvious that illegal activity, such as child pornography, should be under the reigns of government intervention. However, the government should not have a right to track individual’s basic Internet usage, as this a flagrant disregard for the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

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