Facebook, Google, et al: It’s Not The Data, It’s The Context.

ContextsDylan Curran recently published Are you ready? Here is all the data Facebook and Google have on you – an article which should open the eyes of anyone who uses Facebook or Google.

It’s a good article, and it shows how much data people give up freely – who doesn’t have a Gmail account or a Facebook page these days? – but it’s lacking something that most people miss, largely because they’re thinking of their own privacy or lack of it.

I requested my data from the sites – Facebook had 384 megabytes on me, and my Google Data I will get on April 7th since I opted for 50 gigabytes. All this data, though, is limited to what I have done.

It lacks the context. We are all single trees in the forest, and these companies aren’t so much in the habit of studying trees by themselves. They have the data of the forest of trees. That context, those interactions, you can’t really download. The algorithms they have derive data from what we hand over so willingly because it costs us nothing financially.

So, while they can give us our data, and some companies do, they can’t give us someone else’s data – so we only get the data on that single tree, ourselves. We learn only a small amount of what their algorithms have decided about us, and while Facebook has a way to see some of what their algorithms have decided about you, they are not compelled to tell you everything about your digital shadow. Your digital shadow has no rights, yet is used to judge you.

What’s your context? That’s the real question. It’s what they don’t show you, what they have decided about you from your habits, that they don’t truly share. That is, after all, their business.

Know that, be conscious of it… and don’t be an idiot online, no matter how smart you think you are. Everything you do is analyzed by an algorithm.

The Pitter Patter of Digital Footprints

Golden TunnelAnything you have ever done online is a part of your digital footprint. The other part of your digital footprint is what other people and entities have determined your about you.

Some use this information to predict what you’re going to do even when you don’t know you’re going to do it. That’s fairly benign in the hands of marketers because all that will happen is that you’ll go broke buying things that you hopefully need… but likely just want because of ‘good’ marketing.

The increasingly granular bits of information out there might make it more toxic.  Old data hangs around, and while it may have representative of you at certain points, it may not represent you at this time.

I have that issue with LinkedIn.com and wherever I’ve posted my resume in the past. People still ask me if I want to do Drupal when, no, I don’t. But because of this latency of the information, I still get people with thick accents calling me about Drupal. This is an annoyance, but if it were something else it could be damaging. In fact, if I were looking for a job, it would limit me to what I have done rather than what I want to do. It would work against me.

So from my digital footprint, I cast Drupal in my digital shadow and it bytes me on the ankle. Why? Because I made the mistake of working with it for a while – and that, to headhunters who pay for old lists, means I’m still doing it well after leaving it behind for a year. Sure, we know that they’re cheap. That’s not the issue.

What is the issue is that I’m being judged based on data that is no longer relevant. It could just have easily been something else. It could be that I was accused of a crime that I was later found innocent of- and an employer might see that and decide that they don’t want to hire someone felonious. I boggle at writing an example of it because someone’s cheap bot might scrape it and think I did something wrong, when in fact, I did not. But it’s in there now, stuck in the head of a demented network. Like a bad song that plays only to me. Or you.

So when you’re making that little digital footprint sound in what you consider private, it’s not that private – and those little echoes will play until eternity.

Or everyone updates their databases.