What Exactly Does the Internet Know About You?

I get it – Facebook, Twitter, Google – they own me. They have all my data: the ads I click, the things I search, the pages I visit. The implications of this lack of privacy have been unfolding slowly, but with a dampened sense of urgency, until the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, and now, people are realizing too late how valuable their data is.

But here’s the thing – although I understand that the broad implications of this privacy breach are very serious, on a personal level I just find it, quite frankly, a little difficult to care. I’m right on the edge of the generation that was thoroughly indoctrinated by the internet from Day 1. I’m too young to remember dial-up, but old enough to remember when the iPhone came out; one of my earliest memories is my parents getting their first cell phones (my mom had the iconic and beloved Motorola Razr), but I never hung out in AIM chat rooms or had a MySpace. So yes, I vaguely remember a world without internet surveillance, but I came of age in the midst of this new era, so for me it’s just reality; it’s the price you pay for (monetarily) free social media and access to unlimited amounts of information. Anyone younger than me won’t even know life without this surveillance. If nothing else, it’s mildly comforting to know that Google’s got everyone’s data, not just mine.

But not caring is a dangerous pattern to fall into, because it’s fine until it’s not fine. It’s fine when Facebook just knows that I like watching videos about artisanal chocolate making, but it’s not fine when widespread demographic targeting influences a presidential election, which is to say, it’s fine until we noticeit. And at that point it’s too late.

The fact is, unless you’re willing to become a recluse or forego many of the incredible advantages of the internet and mobile technology, there isn’t an enormous amount any of us can do except be careful about what we post, click on, and search for (which you should always be doing anyway). But the one thing you cando is to stay educated. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I believe it’s important for everyone to know exactly what information various sources have on you. It won’t stop them from using it, but it may make you aware of how targeted advertising is affecting your online experience.

Most social media outlets allow you to download an archive of the data they have on you; they just often make it very difficult to find. Here’s a guide to how to get some of that data:

To get all the data Facebook has on you…

Go to Settings > in tiny print at the bottom of your settings click “Download a copy of your Facebook data”

To find out how Facebook categories you…

Go to Settings > Ads (on the left sidebar navigation) > Your Information > Your Categories

To get all the data Google has on you…

Go to myaccount.google.com > Control Your Content > “Create Archive” > Pick what you want in the archive and click “Next” > Choose file settings and click “Create Archive”

*A note about Google’s data archive: For all the work Google puts into making sure your Google calendar syncs seemlessly with your Google Gmail and your Google Docs are all stored in one big happy Google Drive, Google clearly isn’t invested in making sure your Google archives experience is just as convenient. A lot of important and interesting Google data, like your entire search history, is just tossed into a JSON and handed over to you. What about the vast part of the population that doesn’t know what a JSON is? Doesn’t know how to read a JSON? Doesn’t know how/have the tools to open a JSON on their machine? Google, you could do better.

To find out how Google categorizes you and what ads they think you like…

Go to adssettings.google.com.

To get all the data Twitter has on you…

Go to Settings and Privacy > Your Twitter data (left sidebar navigation) > Scroll all the way to the bottom and click the small print that says “Request Your Data”

To get all the data Snapchat has on you…

(Don’t panic – this doesn’t include every snap you’ve ever sent. It’s mostly account info and statistics, ads you’ve interacted with, and timestamps of every snap you’ve sent, with the actual photos redacted. Oh right, it does include Snaps you’ve recently submitted to Our Story, though. Every. Single. One.)

Go to accounts.snapchat.com > Click “My Data” > Scroll to the bottom and click “Submit Request”

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

For my Anthropological Thought and Theory class midterm, we were assigned to do a visual midterm. What is a visual midterm you ask? Well, in this particular case, it was a timeline, map and genealogy midterm that aimed to understand the broader arc of the development of anthropology as an academic field through the contexts of time, place and relationships, but in a visual manner.  As soon as I read the requirements for this assignment, I thought about utilizing my digital humanities background to create a really cool project. In the end, there were key successes with these projects, as well as fails (some due to my own procrastination, others just completely out of my control), so with this post, I will take you on my journey of using my job as a DHA in the actual classroom.

First, what exactly was the project asking for? The project needed to consist of three visual elements:

1)    a timeline showing the place in history of each of the authors we  had read so far in class, their works, and—if possible—their fieldwork;

2)    a map showing where the authors are from, and where they did their fieldwork; and

3)    an intellectual genealogy tracing who studied with whom, who positively influenced whom, and who critiqued whom.

The first tool that came to mind was ArcGis. My original project idea was to create a map with different layers, each layer indicating some attribute, such as important anthropology schools, field sites, and birthplaces of each anthropologists I was to include. The idea, then was to create a story map with a timeline component using my previously created map from ArcGIS. I have previously used ArcGis, so I had some experience and knowledge of how to use it, however my plan was unsuccessful.

I realized that the project using ArcGis was going to be more time-consuming that I had anticipated. Before even starting to use ArcGis, I needed to do extensive research on the anthropologists, including finding pictures that I could use for each person, and adding some other important facts. That in it of itself took a some hours of labor, and then inputting them into a coherent set on ArcGis was going to be even more time consuming. Thus, I decided to use different digital tools. I think that, had this project been a partner or three people project, then perhaps I would had continued with my original plan. But as the sole project team member, it was not an impossible task, but rather an impossible task to complete by deadline time (specially given I had another major assignment due a day after.)

One other tool I considered using was palladio. I thought it was a perfect way to do the genealogy tracing portion of the assignment, however, I quickly realized that it was impossible to figure out how to use. Why do you ask? I think this all comes down to the fact that palladio does not have a clear set of instructions on how to use it and format the data we’re supposed to format. If you use the sample data, then it works great. But, then you are left at a lost as to how organize your data from scratch.

So having abandoned my two original ideas, I was desperate to find another tool. Then I remembered TimelineJS. With TimelineJS, I could satisfy two of my visual midterm requirements: the geneology tracing (by grouping the different schools/thoughts and color coding them) and creating a nice, and succinct timeline (with pictures!) of every anthropologist I was including in my project. The wonderful thing about TimelineJS is that they provide their own template on google sheets for adding data, and it is customizable! So TimelineJS it was! The slightly cumbersome part was just inputting the individual anthropologists data into the template, it was somewhat time-consuming because I had a lot of information to input, but not a difficult task by any means. With every project however, there’s always rooms for mistakes, such as confusing the pictures of two anthropologists when inputting the information, but it’s nothing that cannot be easily fixed.

Having figured out my timeline problem, I was still left with another aspect of my project unsolved: I needed a map! And thankfully, Google Maps came to the rescue. By this point, I had all of the data in a nicely organized template (thank you TimelineJS!) so it was easier to simply input the data into a google maps, and create my own map story. I still had to do some modifications to the data, but the process was more straightforward. Google Maps was also easier to use, and I was able to also add the layers of information I originally wanted.

Doing this project taught me a lot of important lessons about digital humanities work, including the importance of being flexible to change and compromise, because often-times tools will either not have all the components you need in a project, or other times, you simply do not have the time to do the project like you envisioned it.

Link to project: Anthropology Thought and Theory