“Where’s My Data?” A Talk on Internet Data Collection

Publication Type

Over 100 students and faculty attended the recent “Where’s My Data?” talk, a timely discussion on the implications of internet data collection organized by the Committee on Critical Inquiry. The event featured panelists Dean Keith Ross, Vice Provost Clay Shirky and Assistant Arts Professor Roopa Vasudevan, who covered topics ranging from personalized ads to social media privacy.

“Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, they all offer their services for free. But there’s no free lunch in life, of course. We get to use all these wonderful services and what we give back in return is our data,” said Ross.

The practice of data collection is not new, yet with the exponential growth of internet technology, the social, political, and economic implications have now come into the public consciousness.

A greater awareness towards the consequences of internet privacy was the tone of the discussion, as Shirky and Ross brought up anecdotes from their daily lives to illustrate the pervasiveness of data collection.

“If I try to buy one little USB cable, they assume you want hundreds of USB cables,” joked Shirky.

As a prominent writer and lecturer on the economic effects of Internet technologies, he also shared his insight into business as the driving force in decreasing online privacy.

“Data collection is not a side effect of these services; data collection is the business that they’re in,” he said, shedding light on the economically-driven disregard for privacy in internet services.

As far as preventative measures against the issues of Internet privacy and surveillance, Ross concluded: “If you’re really going to have a private life, you’ll have to get rid of your smartphone and your Facebook account.

By Maya Wang