Technology abuse blamed for spying on users to define their identity and worth

Dave Masko's picture

FLORENCE, Ore. – When Chris Dudley and family visited Florence beaches during his run for governor of Oregon in 2010, he admitted needing a break from non-stop campaign technology.

One of the fastest-growing online businesses “is the business of spying on Internet users. Using sophisticated software that tracks people's online movements through the Web, companies collect the information and sell it to advertisers,” stated a Feb. 22 lead report on National Public Radio (NPR). In turn, one former politician seemed happy and fancy free when not on the Internet. It was back in 2010 when Chris Dudley and his family frolicked in the surf near Florence during Dudley’s run for Oregon’s governor’s office as the Republican candidate. In turn, Dudley told this reporter that “my family and I needed a break from the campaign, and being online all the time.” While Dudley did not win the race for governor, this former NBA star said he learned a lot about the power of the Internet to “help get the word out” during his political campaign. Also, there’s a serious downside to technology when it comes to the Internet and instant smartphone access to the world, says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a recent February edition of Rolling Stone magazine. “Unless you’re an electronic-surveillance expert or you have frequent contact with one, you must stay off the Net and mobile phones,” stated Assange when referring to how today’s technology is has allowed Internet surveillance to become a real “Big Brother” that’s watching you 24/7.

WikiLeaks Assange understands surveillance

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stated that somebody is “watching you,” in the February edition of Rolling Stone magazine; while advising anybody wanting real security “to just use the old techniques, paper and whispering in people’s ears.”

“Leave your mobile phones behind,” asserts Assange when warning the public about the massive surveillance power of “Big Brother” technology giants who now have a dog leash on users; watching every word said, what people purchase and where they go.

In turn, Assange warns those technology users of the Internet and smartphones when you walk away from your phones for security reasons “don’t turn them off, but tell your source to leave electronic devices in their offices.”

Assange also told Rolling Stone in a recent February cover story that this struggle to remain free from Big Brother controlling the Internet and communications grid is as serious as a heart-attack today because “we are now in a situation where countries are recording billions of hours of conversations.”

Thus, there’s no privacy for anybody in the world today thanks to the growing power of technology to saturate the world with real “Big Brother” control on everything you record online or on your iPhone or tablet.

Technology owns your life online

It’s now known that “every time you click a link, fill out a form or visit a website, advertisers are working to collect personal information about you. They then target ads to you based on that information,” says Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania during a recent Feb. 22 NPR interview.

Professor Turow, author of the new book “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth,” detailed how companies are tracking people through their computers and cellphones in order to personalize the ads they see.

Turow told NPR that “tracking is ubiquitous across the Internet, from search engines to online retailers and even greeting card companies. A recent Valentine's Day card sent to his wife, for instance, contained trackers from 15 separate companies.”

"[Advertisers] might make inferences about me and romance, they might make inferences — right or wrong — about my age, they might know where I did this — because of some sense of where my computer is, my IP address," Professor Turow says. "There are a lot of things they can infer about me even from [a greeting card]."

But advertisers are not just limited to tracking your Internet browsing, adds Turow. “They're also trying to connect what you do on phones and other mobile devices, which are typically tied to an individual user and account.”

Users on a dog leash when online

"In the holy grail vision of this," explained Professor Turow, "the idea of what you do on mobile should be connected to what you do on the Internet, and what you do on the Internet should be connected to what you do on your iPad, and eventually all of this will converge on what you watch on television."

But right now, says Turow, advertisers are still in the beginning stages of tracking users. He says he still receives ads for dating sites — despite being happily married.

"We're at the beginning of this new world," he says. "It's like the beginning of the airplane industry. Things screw up, and yet we have to look down the line because we're going to have Boeing 747s down the way."

Power tends to corrupt absolutely

Google is a leading innovator in the advertising world. In turn, Professor Turow explains how the search engine makes money through online ads in search results as well as through contextual display advertisements (aka banner ads) located on various websites.

"Increasingly, Google uses information they've collected about you to determine which ads to show you," he says. "Recently Google announced they're going to merge all of their properties — and everything they have about you with almost all of their properties — so they will use what they know about you through Gmail, through regular Google search and through other Google properties to figure out what ads to show you."

“Facebook also uses what you like on its site to target ads but it's mainly marketing toward your friends,” explained Professor Turow during his recent NPR interview.

"Let's say somebody likes Twinkies on Facebook," he says. "Twinkies will then buy an ad from Facebook. And the ad will say, 'Joe Turow likes Twinkies.' And it will be called a sponsored story, and it will go to all of my friends on the side of their Facebook page."

Companies hope that your friends' preferences will also become your preferences, Turow says.

"It's implicit that if 'Joe Turow likes Twinkies' you might like them, too," he says.

People can’t fight back against high-tech

The NPR report also notes how “Internet sites like YouTube, meanwhile, are displaying advertisements before and during videos. YouTube — which is owned by Google — is in the process of developing more than 100 professional content streams with partners like Madonna, Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the CSI TV series. The company hopes the new professional videos will keep YouTube's visitors on the site longer — and attract more advertising dollars.”

"Advertisers are currently wary about putting ads around nonprofessional videos," Professor Turow adds, "so video on the Internet is a big area."

"It used to be that [successful advertisements were measured] in click-through," he says. "But a lot of people point out that people may make up their minds after seeing the ads over time without clicking. Only a very small percentage clicks. So [media] online says, 'We don't have to prove clicks. There are other ways an ad proves its power.' "

In turn, the professor noted how “advertisers today try to figure out the attribution, or value, of a stream of advertisements during a person's hunt for a product.”

"If you're going after shoes, for example, it isn't just the final click that caused you [to buy the shoes] but maybe 15 different searches, seeing different kinds of ads," he says. "And can [they] track you while you do that? That's what I call the Holy Grail."

Ongoing privacy concerns

Moreover, Professor Turow told NPR that “this new age of digital advertising raises concerns” about what companies know about people, and what they can then do with that information.

"Some of them are really essential things, like, do you have diabetes? Are you a certain age that they may not want to hire you? What's your financial situation?" he says. "Will you be able to pay your mortgage?"

Also alarming, Professor Turow says companies can then make certain inferences about people's behavior.

"I'm concerned about ... social discrimination," he says. "... In an everyday world where companies are deciding [how] I'm targeted, making up pictures about me, I'm getting different ads and different discounts and different maps of even where I might sit in an airplane based on what they think about me."

In the future, Turow says, you might be placed into "reputation silos" by advertisers, who will then market products to you accordingly.

"It has a lot of ramifications of how we see ourselves and how we see other people," he says. "... And this is part of another issue we have to think about, which is information respect. Companies that don't respect our information and where it comes from are not respecting us, and I think moving into this new world, we have to have a situation where human beings define their own ability to be themselves."

Money is the reason for Big Brother’s growth

"The amount of money Facebook gets per user from advertisers is not nearly the amount of money that Google gets. But the potential is there, and that's why Wall Street has been going after them,” explained the professor during the Feb. 22 NPR interview.

"They gather everything that you do on Facebook. Facebook scarfs it all up. We know that Facebook has the ability and does target you on their website in an enormous number of ways. They don't give your name to any of the advertisers — it's all done anonymously. I'm not a fan of the distinction between anonymity and no anonymity. ... If you're Joe Schmoe online or they know your real name or they give you an identification number — and so much of our lives is done online — in the end it doesn't matter. You're treated like a person who they know with all of the possible discriminatory activities we've talked about,” he said.

Image source of Chris Dudley and his family when he took a “technology break” at a Florence, Oregon, beach when running for governor of Oregon in 2010. Photo by Dave Masko

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