I am quoting that article because it had an interesting articulation of the current state of affairs – “…we’ve all been reduced to computer bits…”.
That is correct – we are shareable, movable bits of data. But that characterization also made me pause a bit, and think how can individual bits make sense? In other words, how do companies track us? How do they collect all those bits about us?
How do they do it?
There are multiple technologies involved here – but some are more blatant than others. The article mentions that Facebook shares your info with advertisers and other developers. That is one way. Sites use third party IFrames that collect a bunch of data with cookies and other info. IFrames are an easy mechanism for one company to pass info to another company. For example, if I search for a particular product on Amazon, the next minute an ad for that product is showing up in my Yahoo mail! Obviously, Amazon provided my searches (this and all) to a 3rd party that is also affiliated with Yahoo (talk about advertising monopolies!). Going back to Facebook, it also acts like one of these 3rd parties – FB plugins are embedded into seemingly every site these days – so Facebook knows where all I have been on the internet.
What can we do?
Well, I am writing this because there may be somethings we can do – while acknowledging that some others are not in our hands at all. On the later part – we cannot help what Amazon provides to 3rd parties, for example. But what we can help with is how much data we provide to each entity. We should think about how our digital data can be categorized – and utilize specialist services for each category. What I am trying to say is this. For example, you cannot help but let Facebook know who all your friends are. So, in the category of friends and communications with them, you use Facebook. Similarly, in the world of financial payments, you may want to use PayPal or some similar service – so you know where all your payment data resides. What I am saying is that it is bad idea to purchase through Facebook, or attach your Facebook profile to Amazon account. These are not fantasies - those days might soon come. Even otherwise, my point is that we should recognize these services as speciality services – and use them for only the areas they specialize in. Companies (certainly Facebook) will start creeping into your other online activities. One should be able to recognize such moves, and disregard the convenience factor and not use such ‘additional’ services.
Even while doing so, there may still be traces of your identity that you leave within each company that they can use to correlate. For example, your email address, or first name/last name, address, and so on. For example, FB may want to collude with Amazon to link our identities. Those ‘atrocities’ cannot be fought by our own ingenuity, and we would need government ‘intervention’ in such cases.
Is all this just too heavy a thinking? I do not know, tell me what you think.