Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who Is Watching You?

"Tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive. Monitoring used to be limited mainly to 'cookie' files that record websites people visit. But the Journal found new tools that scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions."
- Julia Angwin, "The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets"

Online tracking is not a recent development. However, the extent to which it is used and the amount and types of information being tracked is continuously increasing. In her article, Angwin describes how some large sites did not know that they were installing tracking files on every site user's computer. To think that some of the most widely used sites in the US are not fully knowledgeable of this tracking that comes from their sites is downright scary.

It is not only disturbing to think of the amount of tracking that exists, but also to think that all kinds of information can be tracked and provided for use by advertisers. Personal information, including medical and financial information, can be targeted. Angwin points out that "so much consumer data is now up for sale, and there are no legal limits on how that data can be used". Without specific legal limits on what information can and cannot be used, it seems that any information is fair game.

I still stand by what I wrote in my blog last week - if you do not want to share something with the world, then you need to be aware of your privacy settings and take control of your privacy. In "Facebook friend turns into Big Brother", a college student is fined for drinking underage - which is shown in pictures he is tagged in on Facebook. While this situation is unfortunate for the student, I'm sure that he probably learned the lesson that if you are tagged in a public photo on Facebook doing illegal activities, you will face consequences.

However, I am concerned that websites that provide personal information - such as Spokeo, can be damaging and seem unlawful. I think that the government needs to set specific legal limits as to which information can be made public and that information that is too personal or sensitive to be provided to the world. Until this happens, the best way to protect your privacy is to take extra steps and become informed. The following website provides 12 Ways to Protect Your Privacy.


  1. I love the picture, "Facebook is watching you". That is how it seems nowadays, whatever is posted on Facebook, everyone knows. Some people joke and say, "Nothing is official, unless its Facebook official." Good point on the student learning his lesson for posting pictures of himself drinking on Facebook. As a college athlete, we have people who monitor our Facebooks to make sure there is no underage drinking, and if there is we then have to face the consquences.

    Good Post!

  2. The thing about Spokeo is that a lot of the information it has can be acquired from other sources that aren't from Internet tracking. You may have to pay for most of it, but then you have to pay for most of Spokeo's information as well. Marriage, divorce, and death records can be requested from the government, for instance, as long as you pay a fee.

  3. i think the facebook watching you picture really sums up online privacy today. employers and teachers use it to learn about their workers and students and unless you set it to private then everyone can see it. in high school we had an athlete that was kicked off the team for pictures that were "too revealing" on her facebook