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Pattern recognition in social media

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Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010

Esther Dyson makes some scary points in this article touting a new service called Digital Mirror, which analyzes your online activity and provides reports about your patterns of interaction—who you talk to, how you talk to them, who you avoid, who avoids you, etc. I’m sure all the data-driven, self-obsessed freaks out there are thrilled, but what’s scary to me is the fact that this kind of analytical surveillance is already becoming customary in social networks. Dyson writes:


Facebook and other social tools operate under the covers: Facebook notices which friends you interact with and whose photos you comment on in order to select the items in your NewsFeed or the ads you see. But Facebook does not show that information to you. Digital Mirror does.
Within a few years, this kind of transparency will probably be commonplace, both from Facebook and from ad networks and behavioral targeters trying to derive information about your likely purchases. But right now, only Digital Mirror is one of the few to give you the ability to do the same for yourself.


How perfectly awful is that. Rather than open our horizons, our own activity online serves to close them off, thanks to these “services” operating in the background. We think we are indulging our curiosity but we are merely blueprinting our own personal prison, and helping sketch the floor plan for the cells of our friends. At least all the ads we’ll see while we are trapped there will be relevant.

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