Through a data broker darkly…

Here’s an exercise to do, as a non-specialist, for yourself or maybe as part of a classroom activity: discuss what Facebook (data brokers, credit checkers etc etc.) might know about me/us/you, how accurate the data/information might be, and what that means to our lives.

One of the persistent themes of how we tell stories about the ‘information society’, ‘big data’, corporate surveillance and so on is the extent of the data held about each and every one of us. Lots of stories are told on the back of that and there are, of course, real life consequences to inaccuracies.

Nevertheless, an interesting way of starting the exercise above is to compare and contrast the following two articles:

Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life:

The exploitation of personal information has become a multi-billion industry. Yet only the tip of the iceberg of today’s pervasive digital tracking is visible; much of it occurs in the background and remains opaque to most of us.

I Bought a Report on Everything That’s Known About Me Online:

If you like percentages, nearly 50 percent of the data in the report about me was incorrect. Even the zip code listed does not match that of my permanent address in the U.S.; it shows instead the zip code of an apartment where I lived several years ago. Many data points were so out of date as to be useless for marketing–or nefarious–purposes: My occupation is listed as “student”; my net worth does not take into account my really rather impressive student loan debt. And the information that is accurate, including my age and aforementioned net worth (when adjusted for the student debt), is presented in wide ranges.

Of course, it does not matter if the data is correct – those inaccuracies have real-world consequences, and the granularity of the accuracy only matters in certain circumstances. So, thinking about how and why the data captured about us matters, what it might facilitate – allow or prevent us or those around us doing seems like an interesting activity to occupy thirty minutes or so…

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