The advent of social media has brought with it a new kind of data, one that Lev Manovich thinks could bridge the gap between surface and depth that has historically limited scientists and anthropologists in the study of the human condition. Due to the sheer size of what we can now collect and analyze, now on such a scale that normal computers can not handle the load, a scientific study in today’s world could incorporate hundreds of millions of people, each with their own experiences, preferences, and desires.
But what is the “authenticity” of these extensive sets of data? Manovich poses the argument that our data is not a transparent window into our lives as some would think. His most extreme example is that of someone living in an oppressive state where thoughts and actions must be tailored to governmental preferences. Yet while many do not find themselves in this position, the constant burden of social anxiety and the desire to conform may act in place of Big Brother.
On the other hand, Alice Marwick moves from the benefits and potential detriments of this type of data in the scientific world to the darker, more deceptive world of grand-scale data collection and it’s ethical shortcomings. At the article’s time of publishing, The Guardian had very recently published a massive leak of NSA data and protocols creating a rabbit hole that is still getting deeper and deeper today. But, in the same light, Marwick writes about the many instances in which companies, primarily Target, have begun to use this type of data collecting to tailor advertisements towards their customer’s preferences; many times succeeding in being more creepy than helpful. So where do we draw the line between what is ethically correct and not when companies undergo many of the same types of collection and prediction without any of the responsibility of a government agency?
From an even more frightening standpoint, Marwick moves onto the topic of data brokers, companies that not only collect data from hundreds of millions of people each year but put it on the market, in many cases nonchalantly. Acxiom, her main example and the largest data broker in the business, has an untarnished record. Their competitor Experion has not had such good luck. On one occasion they sold personal data to an identity theft ring while on another they sold to a Vietnamese hacker. What is the ethicality, if any, in these forms of business when it comes to personal information?
By Judson, Griffen