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What Data is Being Collected?

The emergence of an advertising driven online economy has led to the development of a massive scale data collection apparatus composed of thousands of websites and hundreds of advertising companies. This network is constructed around the collection of user data for the purpose of creating targeted advertising.

Many users are unaware of the scale of this collection, or the extent to which their data is being collected, and what informaiton they have put out about themselves. The below graphic demonstrates some of the kinds of data that are being collected.

Is this Collection Acceptable?

I feel that this question has never actually been addressed by our society. The emergence of this new frontier of technology, especially when it has had such a large scale impact on our society, really seems like something that should have been more extensively considered (or considered at all). The development of an economy that is built on the commodification of the user and their personal information seems to pose a signficant risk to that individual, often without any attempt to seek informed consent.

This guide is intended to help provide information about what data is being collected, as part of an effort to give users the opportunity of providing informed consent, and to make an informed decision about what data they are comfortable with revealing about themselves.

Data

Device Information

Informaiton about what device accessed a website, including the language, browser, operating system, service provider, and even screen resolution.

Browsing History

All websites record how a user reached the site, including pages viewed previously. Some websites record much more extensive data (such as Facebook and Google) including the entire browsing history of a user.

Location

Websites record the location of the device used to access the page. This informaiton varies in specificity, from country level, down to individual addresses and wifi networks.

Interests and Behavior

This catagory of data is some of the most useful to websites and advertisers. It includes times when certain websites are visited, time spent on each page, ads clicked or viewed, browsing habits, purchases, and many other kinds of data

Address and Contact Infomration

When logged into a website or service (such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon) that has collected addresses and contact informaiton, this information is sometimes shared with third parties (though generally stripped of identifing characteristics such as name).

Contacts, Family and Friends

Pulling from stored data on social media and email services, websites can collect informaiton about who you interact with, your relationships, and family memebers.

Facial Recognition

The newest form of data collection is information that allows a website to detect who is in a picture or photograph. You may have observed this on websites already. By developing a profile of a face, a website can use that data to find other instances of that individual across many pictures.


As a general rule, if there is no obvious method for a website to make money, the user is probably the source of revenue.

With this information in mind, I believe that it is important for us to consider, as individual users, and as a society, if this is the way we want the internet economy to function going forward, and to consider further impacts of related emerging technologies.