Ads and Eavesdropping

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal occurred right around my freshman year of college. The timing could not have been better for me because I needed to give an in depth presentation on something current in my public speaking class. I chose the topic because of its political implications at the time, and the misunderstanding surrounding algorithms. My research uncovered that for roughly for every site you visit there are at least ten unique services tracking you, and because people are creatures of habit with large amounts of data understanding your behavior becomes increasingly easier.

The whole point behind using algorithms is that if you’re super interested in a hobby then you’ll want suggestions related to that hobby. Throw in a bunch of people who like that same hobby, and you can start to draw better conclusions about individuals. The analysis of large amount of data can lead to coincidences that feel like eavesdropping. From what I recall, nearly everything you do is sent along for analysis whenever possible. Handling data this way actually reduces the need for eavesdropping. In fact, a lot of services will let you voluntarily opt out of data collection. Because following random thoughts like I do sometimes can make the analysis less accurate.

The biggest driver of this line of thinking is the fact our brains are not always rational. In fact, I think it’s why people struggle with understanding my PTSD. I have a lot of cool stories of things I’ve done accidentally. When we see a random ad that is well timed our mind starts to draw insane conclusions. When I ran Skandalouz I saw this a lot with Tupac lyrics. People would claim he predicted his death well before he died, and who killed him. On the flip side, The Dead Kennedys have two versions of the same song: California Uber Alles, and We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now. Those sorts of failures, much like outdated ads, are filtered out subconsciously. What you do with all this information moving forward is up to you.

Typically, most services will let you opt out of data collection. The trade off is that your feeds may not be customized to your hobbies, and you may be kept out of the loop on a lot of things. Besides, sometimes that data collection can be used to better allocate resources or make meaningful improvements. Like I don’t use cookies at all for tracking traffic data, and I get wildly variate data. At the end of the day, you should choose what best fits your needs.

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