Why you are more than a data point

in General, Self-Improvement

How Your Behaviour And Identity Are Sold Online?

How your behaviour and identity are sold online?

How your browsing behaviour is captured, sold and manipulated online?

Are you on Facebook?

Then you’re one among the 1.71 billion monthly Facebook users.

Use a Smartphone?

Then your mobile activity, preferences and location are obsessively tracked like approximately 2 billion other Smartphone users.

These were just two instances when you shared data with a business. Do you recall the moment you filled 5 fields to create an account on a new and shiny social network?

Oh! You were lazy...so you just pressed onto the ‘Log in with Facebook’ button and instantly gave permission to this new social network to get access to your existing 100 data points.

Wonder what happens next?

You become a dot on the company’s growth curve. Your initial interaction with the company is analysed. If you’re an engaged chap, then you’ll be put on a priority list. The business will deepen their relationship with you and optimize their communications with you to squeeze out most dollars.

You might not realize it, but on every login, you’re subconsciously getting programmed to recheck your social media accounts. The number of minutes you engage on a platform and the information you share on every visit are then sold to advertisers. And so you contribute to the business’ bottom line.

Let us look at how your online activity is tracked by social media networks.

How your browsing behaviour is captured, sold and manipulated online?

Automation, artificial intelligence and data-backed algorithms have already infiltrated our lives. The more you engage with a website/app and share your feelings, the more information is made available to advertisers for targeting you.

Shared your wedding on Facebook?

Congratulations! You might now land into the hands of jewellery companies and receive ads targeting you during your anniversary.

Changed your mind and dropped off midway to purchase a JBL speaker from an e-Commerce store?

The store won’t let you forget about it. Maybe you’ll make your mind in a couple of days after repeated exposure to the products’ ads to captivate you.

Even when you’re logged off, the social giant gathers most of your browsing behaviour. In 2013, Facebook partnered with data brokers like Acxiom that have information about 500 million consumers globally and an average of 1,500 data points per person. So Facebook even has access to your offline behaviour.

Twitter, Google and other big websites also offer behaviour based advertising to businesses with the ability to target granular details about you. Overall though, Facebook probably has the most detailed consumer profile for most of us. Here’s one such profile plotted by Fashioning Change Inc based on Facebook Interests and Likes.

If you like to be super private about your life, then you might feel like deleting your Facebook account right now and hiding under a rock. I’ll talk in detail about privacy later.​

My opinion is that targeted advertising and a personalized news feed can be useful and relevant to us. There are a couple of caveats, though.

1. Social feed algorithms track your clicks and personalize it to show more of what you want

You know the cliched self-improvement advice: what’s good for you vs. what you want.

It fits on social media news feeds.

Here’s how:

Social media platforms want their users (us) to stick around longer on their platforms and engage with more ads they show. So they track the articles that we click and show us more of the similar type of content in our feeds.

At the surface, encouraging you to do more of what you like seems legit! Because as self- improvement gurus say - the purpose of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.























​​​​




If you dig deeper, what this means is that if your previous clicks and likes showed an inclination towards Hillary Clinton, then your timeline will only show posts that praise her.

Any article shared by your friend that shows Donald Trump in good light will be ignored. 61% of Facebook millennial users rely on the news feed for latest information about government and politics.

So by logging onto Facebook, are you developing a tunnel vision falling to your ideologies? Are you getting cut off from real world with filters by Facebook to satisfy its ends?

Mark Zuckerberg denies that the Facebook algorithm fuels biases. And a peer reviewed study in the journal Science found that an average of 29% of the stories in the news feed appear to present views that conflict with the user’s own ideology.

The study was conducted on a small subset of skewed users. So I would suggest you not to consider Facebook article updates as an unbiased source of information.

2. Advertisers can cross the line with access to data on your vulnerabilities and insecurities

Due to the mind-blowing advancement in technology, your thoughts, preferences and personality are now out of the closet. Your intellect, the kind of jokes you like and your relationship status can be predicted based on the kind of articles that you casually liked and your other online interactions.

Let me show you an evil possibility:

In 2013, a marketing firm PHD conducted a survey and found that ‘women feel the ugliest on Mondays and weekends.’ They advocated cosmetic brands to schedule their ads and messaging tailored to their vulnerabilities. You can see an infographic here that summarizes the key findings.

How would you feel if a marketer targeted their advertising to your flaws?

I feel used.

Now that you understand the nuances of how your online life is sold, I want to discuss how we’ve gotten accustomed to our online identities.

How we fall for illusionary social media numbers and what you should rather care about?

The internet is like air for our generation. It’s forever present and our lives hinge on it. As we’re talking data in the article, the internet advertising bureau in the UK found that the average Briton spends 2 hours and 51 minutes everyday on the internet.

Besides browsing the internet searching for information, a major activity that we are constantly involved in, is our activity on social media.

An average internet user spends 118 minutes a day on social media.

A decade ago, few people would have imagined that our conversations can revolve around getting hundred likes on a Facebook picture. And reaching thousands of followers on Instagram.

Thanks to the convenience provided by LinkedIn - even our work anniversaries have now gotten an automated flavor. You might initially feel gratified to see a new message notification pop-up on your account. But the feeling will quickly fade away when you open your inbox and find five same messages that don’t even contain your name.

While I appreciate the person’s effort to press the congratulate button, I know most of them couldn’t care less about me. Because when I try to engage them in a conversation, I get nada.

Thanks stranger for pressing the ‘Congratulate’ button on my name alongside 10 other gentlemen that LinkedIn suggested you.

Similarly the biggest social networking site, Facebook has brought virtual birthday wishes into picture. People count their blessings in terms of the number of Facebook friends that wrote “Hey Bro! Happy b’day” on their timeline. Even funeral condolences can be sent on Facebook with ‘miss you’ and ‘rest in peace’ posts on the timeline.

Not that I am against people expressing their opinions and sharing their personal life events on Facebook. But the majority of these wishes and emoticon filled messages are posted nonchalantly. Many of your virtual friends will just write ‘HBD’ taped the standard ‘colon closed bracket’ to send their *warm* wishes.

If your “Facebook Friends” care enough, then they would visit you or least call you. You probably won’t have a memory of the hundred similar messages that were posted on your timeline. But you’ll remember that one personal encounter with a person that took the effort to call you.

Ultimately, it’s the little but real human conversations that matter.

Amidst the data avalanche, don’t forget that you’re more than a spike...

A repeatedly quoted IBM study to show the gigantism of big data, found that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data everyday. IBM released this report about 5 years ago. Imagine the future with the internet of things when all of our devices are connected to the web every moment and sending data about our behaviour.

Facebook, Google, Apple and other brands will continue to harness your data. Your behaviour is going to be continuously served to marketers for serving ads to you. Your personal information might even get into the wrong hands.

You needn’t revolt, delete your Facebook account and get off the internet.

Instead, share your photos religiously on the internet. Track your runs with fitbit. Understand where you like to spend your time with time management tools like RescueTime. Fill out all the information fields of a website that you’re keen to join.

Let the mofos obsess with data, generalize your behavioural patterns and ignore you as a tiny speck. Realize that you’re a fucking human. Unlike machines, you don’t need “enough data” to perform smartly.

You can break your mental patterns straightaway.

In this moment, you’ve a choice to change your attitude and stop doing what you did so far. You’re free to act differently because you’re much more than a fucking data point.

6 Shares