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Mindless Internet Control

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The Circulation and Trade of Your Personal Data


Animation by Magdalena Wistuba.

Animation by Magdalena Wistuba.

How many things are you doing right now?

If you are like the rest of the Millennial generation, you are probably not just reading this article. I bet you’re: 1. reading this, 2. In the middle of multiple text conversations, 3. Writing an important email to a professor 4. Listening to your Spotify account, and 5. Have at least three tabs currently open on your browser window (one of them being your Facebook). I challenge you to put down your cellphone, log out of your Facebook, take those headphones off or out of your ears and, for a few minutes, literally unplug.

What happens when banner ads on email accounts begin suggesting purchases based on private conversations, when Netflix rates a movie yet to be seen by its account holder, or when Twitter makes recommendations of strangers one might like to follow? You’ve heard this story before, but it’s worse than you think. This isn’t just an issue about technology developing faster than we can keep up with; it’s about companies taking information that is so readily supplied and using it to manipulate the consumer. Based on circulating data, the internet creates a narrative for the way you live your life. It already knows what you probably want, how you’ll probably like it, and what friends you don’t already have but should probably have. If we don’t take control of the technologies that we deem necessary and begin to limit what we divulge about ourselves on the internet, we will become old models, so predictable and lifeless that the internet will, in turn, control us.

According to the Washington Post, since 2007, Apple has sold 85 million iPhones in the US alone and 34 million iPads since 2010. As of 2012, Facebook became a member of the 1 billion users club. Twitter is catching up at 500+ million, LinkedIn has 225+ million, Tumblr is climbing high at 110+million users and, prior to it’s recent purchase by Facebook, Instagram was over 100 million users. These social media outlets provide great tools for keeping in touch, getting real time news updates, digging for gossip, and procrastinating. However, their goals reach beyond communication and entertainment. In “ Managing Information Strategically” (1993), James McGee and Laurence Prusak outlined the idea of the information marketplace and argued that information is an instrument of power, that can be traded, and sold. The information shared via cell phone and online is used for marketing material, documentation for third party spammers, it is subject to surveillance out of your control and falls under government jurisdiction.

Animation by Magdalena Wistuba.

Animation by Magdalena Wistuba.

During the first few months of 2013, Facebook admitted to sharing the personal information of 39,000 individual accounts with 72 national governments. The United States alone submitted 12,000 individual requests to Facebook inquiring about over 21,000 separate accounts., a new journalism website focused on promoting a vibrant, well-informed electorate and a more transparent government, also stated that The United States government had the most requests for information, more than all other national governments in the entire world, combined.

In addition to consciously selling your information, websites sometimes simply give it away. And at times, by accident. stated that this past summer, 6 million Facebook users’ contact information was “inadvertently downloaded by other Facebook users who had some connection to them.” And, just last month, a new update to iOS7 provided any amateur hacker who is bored, has thumbs and is near an iPhone the opportunity to hijack someone else’s photos, personal emails, and social media applications. This month, Yahoo! News wrote, “Despite the fact that it has only been available to the public since September 18, Apple has already pushed out one update to its latest operating system in record time to address a vulnerability that, if left unchecked, would have given hackers access to a handset’s contents, regardless of whether a passcode had been activated.”

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