Following the Crumbs Can Be Crummy…

This post is late because of a certain snarky blog poster’s birthday this weekend #24on24

Anyway….

Hey~

This week, we explored the nature of truth in online spaces. Often, online, false news or misinformation spreads more rapidly and much further than facts or more honest news or truthful reporting of information. With this being the case, how is one to navigate online spaces and make decisions about the truth or “fakeness” of a source? Can there be any fake or real news in a place like America that has become so divided? More, does truth even matter anymore when it so easy to make up information that supports a false narrative and or straight-up choose to believe in facts or not?

Personally, I believe the truth will always matter. I believe it is important to question information and think critically about where information is coming from but I ultimately do believe that there are facts and indomitable truths. Maybe they’re not Plato’s capital “T” Truths but there are true things/people/facts out there. It is important to believe in the reality of the truth, to me, because if we can’t agree on a set of truths, then we can’t have a meaningful discussion. We could only engage in arguments–which seldom resolve problems.

What is causing division in this country, in my opinion, is a lack of faith in news organizations and traditionally heralded, respected sources of information. This lack of faith, I believe, is being caused largely by political pundits and agents of a particular political agenda who benefit substantially from the spread of misinformation and from generating distrust towards facts and critical information. How do we circumvent this, though? How do we identify misinformation online? And, more, how do we get people to care about misinformation?

That latter question may be more challenging to answer but I did come across some sources that talk about fake news and identifying misinformation online. One of them is a news articles by The New York Times. In the article, “Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News” some strategies are provided for navigating misinformation online. More, how false information spreads is analysed and discussed. Two other articles quoted in this article discuss the issue of fake news at length. One of the articles is “As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth” and the other is “How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study” Both of these articles talk about more specific details about fake news and how its spread operates in online spaces. The second article seems to use Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves” method in order to determine whether or not a specific example (i.e that fake protesters were being shuttled to Trump rallies) is fake or not (It is–no one needs to be paid to protest the guy >.>). 

Anyway, I think these articles are good sources to provide to our field guide for navigating the web. They elaborate more upon the problem of fake news in our Internet landscape and provide examples for navigating this complex and complicated landscape.

I’d give these sources about 7/10.

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~Till next time~

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There Is No “NO” Button…

This post may be late because it’s a certain snarky blog poster’s birthday on Sunday, the 24th….

Hello~

Welcome back to the hellscape ^.^ This week, we’re exploring the circumstances that led to a post-truth Internet and the creation of a platform that is responsible now, more than ever, for spreading more “fake” content than real.

Strap in!

There Are Only “Okay” Buttons

In this day and age, I think it’s a given for most of us to believe that more than half of what we see online is fake. At the very least, we don’t necessarily believe that the content we encounter online has a high truthiness factor. This may be exclusive to younger generations but I do think it is a growing sentiment, regardless of political or social leanings in many case. No one believes everything they see online anymore.

But, why?

This week, we explored some of the strategies people can use in order to determine whether or not a source of information is credible. One of the methods we explored is Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves“. I consider this a “work backwards” method. Essentially, before considering how truthful information is, you should look at the context in which this information exists–Are there other sources cited within the source? Are there other credible publications put out by this source? Can claims made within be verified by other sources? No? If not, why? To me, these all seem like basic moves one makes while conducting thorough and rigorous research. But, as we can see in this analysis of a suspect photo, these steps are apparently not so obvious.

Then why do so many people think the Internet is so fake if this kind of rigorous inspection of information is not so common?

Personally, I believe it is because of the recent and rigorous work of others done in exposing cover-ups both online and IRL that has made people more suspicious in this age. Also, I think political leanings have served to make people suspicious of all information they come across online, especially if it contradicts their world view and regardless of whether or not it comes from a credible source. We are living in “shady” times and I think the Internet has been used in the service of being shady but has also served as a microscope through which to inspect this shady activity.

Anyway, like being tracked online, I think this idea that the Internet is fake is a concept many of us now take as a given and, really, have come to expect. We don’t necessarily all remember a time when the Internet was a place where you could be fake and it didn’t matter. Which, is another aspect of this issue: the idea of being fake online is almost entirely associated with nefarious activity or with this sense of wrongdoing. Basically, if you aren’t you online, the same you you are IRL, then you have something to hide or you are purposefully trying to fool people into believing you are something you are not. There’s no playfulness or idea of experimenting with identity anymore. (Well, I do think some of that is coming back but I’ll save that discussion for a future post.) I think our jadedness with the post-truth Internet could more aptly be described as an expression of our fears–our fears of being fooled or being ridiculed or being made fun of for falling for something we believed to be true. I believe there’s a lot of complex emotion wrapped up in our ideas about the Internet and it’s ability to rapidly and unrepentantly spread false information.

This article, by Max Read, explores the web of ideas surrounding the post-truth Internet. Essentially, the core argument of this article seems to be that it’s not just one component of the Internet that is fake–it’s all of them. There are fake people using fake sites made by fake businesses to, ultimately, make real money. According to this article, that’s largely the problem. Read states, “Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real.” Here, Read is referencing the concept of Inversion. Basically, the Inversion is the tipping point where “real” traffic becomes more suspect online than bot traffic or “unreal” traffic. Computer systems and tracking systems become more apt at tracking bot traffic than traffic on sites committed by real users. It has a strong Matrix texture to it, in some ways. I think Read makes a very compelling case in this article for more attention to be paid to fake news and online tracking around it but I’m not sure I totally buy into everything he’s saying. At least, I don’t necessarily agree with some of his premises.

Mainly, I find it contentious to say that we are anymore fake online than we are IRL. Sure, the Internet provides more opportunities to be fake in some regards but, ultimately, I think it is preposterous to say that we are anymore real outside of the Internet. With how much social, academic, professional, political, cultural, etc. conditioning we have experienced every second of every day, from the moment we are alive, I think it’s inaccurate to say we are real outside the Internet and fake online. Like, I can’t agree with that. I think it’s more nuanced. I think it’s more complicated. (Check out my thoughts on that here.)

Something important that Read does talk about and that I agree with is that only advertisers benefit from the current state of the Internet. Currently, the Internet is good for ads. This is, in large part, due to unregulated data tracking and places like “click farms”. It is far too easy to game the system.

Episode 2” on the documentary series Do Not Track explores easy it is for different entities to track us, cull our data, and place targeted ads. Cookies, which are not regulated in the US Communism is apparently cool so long as it’s for surveillance and everyone gets a cookie,  can attach themselves to our computers and send back fairly comprehensive profiles based upon our data. It’s incredibly too simple.

It seems that so long as perpetuating  and pedaling inaccurate information is profitable, it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Under this system, you and I only have value so long as we can generate revenue. More than that, it doesn’t seem to matter if you are I know what is and is not true because that has no value under this system. As stated in Do Not Track, there is no “No” button for cookies; only an “Okay” button. Even if there were value in demonstrating resistance, there’s no way to do it. Which, to me, seems pretty bleak. Like, the Panopticon doesn’t even care anymore if you know that there’s no one really in the tower. That’s scary.

All this said, I feel like I need to reaffirm my own belief in the power of truth and of speaking truth to power. Though it may not have any monetary value, truth is one of the most worthwhile currencies. Every may pass but the truth will always remain. It is gold. Right now, it may feel like we’re trying to get gold out of mercury, like it’s pointless to try for the truth let alone care about it. But, it’s important now more than ever that we are consistent in our efforts. The truth doesn’t always have to be the loudest voice to be heard; just the most consistent. Power will never hear a truth that isn’t voiced. More, you and I will never believe the truths we don’t reaffirm for ourselves. If anything, that is what the Internet is revealing to us.

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Bonus Post

This week, I added some articles to the field guide that elaborate more on how misinformation proliferates and perpetuates in online spaces. These articles focus on the problem of fake news and just how easily it is to spread on the Internet. I think these articles provide some reading strategies that could be useful for further developing digital literacy skills.

Daily Digital Alchemies

This week, I had some fun and created an alternate persona online named Veronica ^.^ She swears she has no idea where any emails may have gone or where any video tapes are or what the word “collusion” really means…..>.>

Also, I had some fun with pixelating an image of the night sky which I feel represents my feelings towards alchemy: that alchemy is a bright light in an otherwise dark sky. (Same as the truth.)

~Till next time~

Privacy Is A Privilege?

“We are paying for everything right now. The currency we’re trading is data.” ~ Anne-Marie Scott

So, this week the polar vortex finally descended upon us and swallowed us whole in a show of might that only emphasized how insignificant we are–

Actually, class just got snowed out cause global warming is a thing and it’s screwing with the weather. What are you gonna do??? Pass Ocasi0-Cortez’s Green Deal???

Anyway, despite this week’s unfortunate weather, some of us were still able to meet online and continue shedding some light on the dark practices and conjurings happening just below the web’s  seemingly glossy surface. To help guide our discussion on the increasingly complex issues of privacy online, data tracking, real vs. fake, etc., we had Anne-Marie Scott (@ammienoot) and her insight and expertise.

Don’t You Forget About Me The Light

In this week’s Studio Visit with Anne-Marie, a lot of discussion revolved around data protection and privacy in online spaces. In the European Union, where Anne-Marie is located, there are specific regulations put in place that decide what information about you can be collected or used by entities that wish to use the Internet as a platform for their content. These regulations are known as the GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) and control the flow and collection of data in the EU. There must be transparency if an entity is tracking your data for any reason and entities are not allowed to target specific persons with the data collected or else there could be severe penalties. Essentially, privacy online in the EU is being valued as a right rather than this private information being valued for financial gain. It’s an entirely different ideology than the one in America, where regulations are often viewed as hindrances to innovation and capital.

This contrast of belief is a highly contentious subject (as are most subjects where $$$ is involved). To be honest, I can understand both sides of the issue. Like, I get that it is through a lot of this data tracking and targeted advertising that many platforms we consider “free” make the revenue necessary to keep the sites accessible. If that revenue were to disappear or be severely cut, these site could no longer operate as virtually free entities. To a degree, I’m sympathetic. When my data is not being used for inherently questionable purposes, I admittedly don’t have a problem with its collection. Especially if it is providing the funding necessary to keep news organizations in circulation or to help creators online make the profit they need to continue making cool things. But, unfortunately, this kind of control over my data is not guaranteed in the current system in the US. Right now, it’s the “wild west” out here. A consumer free-for-all. A Capitalist wet-dream.

Apart from a complete and utter paradigm shift, I’m not sure what actions could be taken to change this system in the US. Especially under the current administration (that killed net neutrality ’cause this whole “everyone has equal and equitable access to the Internet” sounds a lot like Communism >.>). Something suggested was paying extra for additional security that could ensure privacy; this is something many users seem willing to do, especially as they learn more about just how much of their data is being collected and used for less-than-what-should-be-legal purposes. That said, this brings into questions difficult issues such as privilege and access. As Anne-Marie so eloquently put it, “Privacy is a privilege.” I think it’s hard for many people, myself included, to understand what a privilege it is just to be able to discuss a subject like privacy. As we learned in our last Studio Visit with Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible), surveillance is nothing new to so many persons from marginalized or vulnerable groups of the population. And, I wonder if it would still be a big deal in big tech organizations if it were only affecting certain consumers. Also, as Anne-Marie noted, making privacy a privilege one has to pay for may only further segment the population, not only along social lines but also along class lines. Again, the most vulnerable would be the victims.

If anything, this discussion highlighted how privacy and online data tracking are not issues exclusive to themselves; instead there is much intersection. Many complex issues such as class, access, race, etc. intersect with privacy and data tracking. There is no simple solution for the problem–because there is not only one problem. There are many.

That said, Anne-Marie did suggest the GDPR could bode well for the future of many online services. Since these different services already have to alter their operations for implementation in the EU, why not implement these altered operations worldwide? They’re already going through all the effort, right? I’m a bit pessimistic about this suggestion, tbh. But, I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised. Also, Anne-Marie mentioned that some of these data collecting practices can be used for the creation of very helpful platforms–such as Wikipedia. An open-source platform like Wikipedia allows for conversation and community to develop around information which can allow for better information in the end. As many of us stated this week, it is the sense of community online spaces allow to develop that really redeems the Internet and makes endeavors to better and more fairly facilitate community and collaboration online worthwhile.

Ultimately, I believe the Internet is a clusterf*ck of #problematic issues to say the least but I also want to believe cue the X-Files theme that it can be this place for free and creative enterprise and interchange to occur. There is so much potential for such a space to exist if we are able to elect people into positions of power and influence who believe the Internet’s best qualities are community, collaboration, and creative enterprise. In America, at least, action like this needs to be taken or else change will not occur. I firmly believe that. It’s going to take an invigorated and self-actualized public to have meaningful impact on these issues. I think that privacy and data tracking are, of course, issues of personal responsibility as well. But, also, I don’t think it’s right that the burden to protect data and privacy should fall fully on individuals. The truth of the matter is that the general person is not informed of nor educated about these issues–which is another aspect of this that is important: education. In fact, it may be the first step that needs to be taken before others actions can be carried out. In this digital age, digital literacy should be as important as any other subject in school. When not “up-to-par”, this lack of education has a real-world, measurable impact on individuals. As I’ve stated before, I truly believe that education is what will always light the way. If anything, our efforts should be focused on how we can provide everyone with both access to such essential information and thorough explanation of that information so that informed decisions can be made.

I think classes like ours are igniting the spark.

match

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Bonus Post

This week, in an extra post, I shared a resource I think could be helpful in developing digital literacy skills. The resource is a series on Youtube made by Crash Course. The series explores Media Literacy which intersects with many of the issues we explore in our own course. How to navigate a post-truth world is a focus of the series as well as how to become more informed about these unseen practices going on behind our screens. I think it’s a great tool to have in our library.

Daily Digital Alchemies

(So, full disclosure, these were kind of done between posting weeks but I’m putting them towards this post because I’m having a busy life this week and I need to do this >.< I’ll work on managing this!)

In my first DDA, I posted a screenshot of my screen use which my phone has been tracking since an update or two ago???. I’m a little horrified at myself but I also think it could be worse–and has been. I’m either getting better at managing my screen time or I’m too busy to even look at my phone these :)))))) #gradlife #illcompletethisthesisordietrying

For my second DDA, I put my good ol’ giphy skills to use and giffed the first few sentences of my thesis. One copy is “disemvoweled”. I used a different site than the one suggested on the DDA though because I couldn’t access that site due to Adblocker??? Anyway, I hope you enjoy my avant-garbage~ There will be more to come.

~Till Next Time~

Your Fave Pyro

Developing Digital Literacy (One Video at a Time)~

Hey~

Welcome to this week’s bonus post ^.^ I’m going to try to keep it short & sweet!

A big topic in class related to privacy, data tracking, and navigating online spaces as a whole is that of digital literacy. Data tracking, learning algorithms, and surveillance capitalism have largely been allowed to propagate and perpetuate and make a butt-ton of money off of all of us due in large part to a lack of regulation. Unfortunately, much of this has gone unregulated not because people do not care but because they do not know they need to care in the first place. A vast majority of the population, especially in the US, is simply unaware of the dangers online spaces pose to their privacy and other personal information. Most people don’t know that when a website is free, that means they are the product.

In order to enact meaningful change in regards to imposing regulations on the conduct of these digital entities, the public needs to speak up and elect officials who can make changes. But, in order for the public to speak up on these issues, they need to be informed and they need to know why it matters. To help better inform people at all levels on the issues affecting their relationship to the Internet and the Internet’s relationship to user information, I highly recommend Crash Course on Youtube’s Media Literacy series.

The series covers not only many of the topics we’ve already discussed so far in class but also discusses the intersection some of these concerns have with others. I think this series provides users with a good foundation from which to further develop their own stance on the issue. This source, too, I believe can be helpful for educating even younger users on the many issues affecting our interactions with the Internet.

I would give this resource a solid 9/10? There’s always room for improvement and I’m sure people have their own opinions on “educational Youtube”. Overall, at least, I think this is a useful tool to keep in our library.

More, I firmly believe that education is the spark that will light up the darkness of the web like a clear night sky.

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~Till Next Time~

In the Algorithm We Trust (But Should We????)

Welcome back to hell~

This week, we dove deeper into the darkness of the web and the practices of those who use the web as a tool for mass surveillance. Topics in this week’s discussion include 1) data tracking, 2) digital redlining, and 3) surveillance capitalism. Light stuff, I know.

Anyway, I suggest you grab a drink of your choice and strap in for my *hot take* on some of these issues~

Data Tracking, Digital Redlining, & Surveillance Capitalism Oh My!

So, this week, we got the ball rolling with a video on how advertising practices in online spaces are quickly turning the Internet into a dystopian nightmare that puts Orwell to shame. This video, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads”, by rockstar goddess Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is one I shared in a prior blog post and is one I think explains the ramifications of current online data tracking practices in a very accessible way for most people. More importantly, I believe this video really emphasizes just how little regulation there is in place to stop Big Business from buying and selling our attention as if it were any other product and not something integral to life as we know it.

I think it’s important to understand that our “robot overloads” are not some far off possibility but a real-time inevitability. The world will end “not with a bang but a whimper” and all that. The Panopticon very clearly does not need to be a physical place in order to operate. It’s a state of mind and a state of being. In her talk, Tufekci mentions the idea of “surveillance capitalism”, which is the monetization of our online movements for marketing purposes, and the of “persuasive architecture” which is a structuring of a space like the Internet to best capture attention and so maximize profits. These concepts are important when discussing exactly why the current design of the Internet is not optimal for users. When private interests become more important that user benefits, I think there is a fundamental problem with that system, especially if the system is meant to be of public use. Essentially, we’re all experiencing a different Internet which can cause large rifts in information and knowledge between users which easily spills out into the real world.

For me, it is these implications that most concern me. Like, I don’t necessarily care about seeing ads for a pair of shoes I want all over the place but I care immensely more about the divide in knowledge this personalization of space for optimal monetization is causing. Especially when we’re talking about the Internet in a country whose citizens often define themselves along partisan lines like the U.S, these divisions become very concerning very fast. At least, for me. I think a lot of my classmates and most people are quite apathetic towards this issue. This, though, may be due in large part to a lack of informed consent and the development of diligent digital literacy.

The idea that digital literacy is essential to activating the public in order to enact meaningful change in regards to this issue is one that was discussed in our Twitter chat on Tuesday night. Which was uplifting to see. Though, even as a huge proponent of such measures, I remain skeptical of the effectiveness of them. It’s just, in this current sociopolitical climate, I don’t see how meaningful change has even a tiny chance. We’re more divided now than ever, it seems. Still, I want to be hopeful and I believe we can be a part of the movement towards meaningful change in this arena–it’s just going to require a lot of consistency in the face of overwhelming and, in many cases, willful ignorance.

There are many people out there, like Tufekci, who are trying to enact meaningful change in their own ways. In addition to watching Tufekci’s video, we also had the opportunity to have a studio visit with Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) who is an outspoken voice on the subject of digital redlining as well as on the many other absurd ways in which we are being surveilled online. Digital redlining is basically the old redlining just repackaged in digital form and perhaps several times worse. (You can check out my older post on the subject.)

What I found most interesting from our talk with Gilliard is how truly privileged the notion of “I don’t have anything to hide” is as well as how utterly absurd. Even if that were true, so what??? That doesn’t give any entity the right to invade your privacy at a whim. More, it doesn’t give anyone the right to surveil someone who is not a criminal nor suspected of any criminal activity. It blew my mind when Gilliard talked about how our license plates are constantly being collected and cataloged and so that our regular movements can be tracked and compiled into a record.

surveillance1

Again, this is happening to all of us–not just people being suspected of wrongdoing. It’s crazy to me and, like Gilliard said, the burden to prove I don’t need to be under surveillance should not be mine. It’s antithetical to everything this country was founded upon. And, it cannot be stressed enough, this kind of surveillance is not innocuous. It can very real world impact that affects agency, access, and opportunities in life. That’s far too much power to go unregulated and yet it does.

I found the idea of “permission-less innovation” to be another eye-opening concept. Essentially, the idea here is that questionable/concerning entities like Uber or whatnot are allowed to exist simply because they were developed and created before regulations existed to stop their existence. It’s this kind of weird chicken/egg problem. The word innovation somehow becomes a magic word that lets companies be dicks because nobody knew such a dick could exist until they popped up.

It’s honestly less discerning than I thought it would be to be living in a Black Mirror episode but it’s still really horrifying the more I let myself think about it. Which is probably why I don’t.

nosedive1

Brett Gaylor (@remixmanifesto) is another researcher looking into the ethical and overarching issues with online data tracking. He’s one of the main contributors and creators of the Do Not Track series which explores how data tracking invades our daily lives in a very personalized way. Though I knew it was coming, when the first episode showed the town I lived in and the current temperature, I was highly perturbed. Hella freaked out, tbh. It’s one thing to read and hear about how easily it is to track you online but a whole other thing to see it so clearly demonstrated. That little detail is honestly hat freaked me out the most, more than the information on the web of connections between the different sites I visit, because it’s really not a small detail. It makes me feel unsafe.

Again, it’s one thing to subconsciously understand you live in a surveillance state and a whole other thing to be shown evidence that you are being surveilled.

Overall, I found this week to be a very disconcerting week. For the most part, I believe I am fairly resigned to being surveilled. But, this week, I found out that there are many things about living in a surveillance state/economy that I am actually very not okay with. Before this week, I wanted to believe that education could help alleviate this issue. I really did. But, now, I’m not so sure that is enough. We really need to mobilize and activate ourselves in order to get people into positions of power who can facilitate meaningful change–whatever that may be. I’m still not sure on what should be done.

I do know what you call Chicken Little when the sky is falling though:

Right. Awfully right.

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Out of My Depth

In addition to this overview, I also wrote a post about a site called “Am I Unique?” which allows users to see how their browser fingerprints compare to others. To be honest, I feel like looking into this issue only created more questions for me. If anything, sites like this make it abundantly clear why digital literacy is very necessary. A basic knowledge of some coding practices would also be very nice. If anyone has anything else to add about browser fingerprints, please feel free to provide that info in a comment on the post! It’s be greatly appreciated.

Regarding these additional posts, I would like to express some concerns I have. Mainly, I feel that we were not properly informed about these additional posts. I understand that class went late last week but I do not think a brief paragraph at the bottom of the weekly class post was enough to fully explain what is expected. Also, I wish there was more of a discussion in general about adding them at all. I understand they are going to serve a larger purpose but two additional posts on the topics asked for is a lot of work because these topics are not easy or familiar to many of us and require a time commitment to adequately analyze. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel a little out of my depth here and could use a lot more guidance on the subject matter. I don’t mean for this to be a criticism but I did want to make my concerns known.

Daily Digital Alchemies

This week, I shared how art inspires me to create and think critically from different perspectives. I find myself heavily inspired by the messages encoded in art.

Also, I shared style icon Wednesday Addams and some words to live by. Honestly, I dare a man to try and control me in any way. I’m not trapped in a man’s world. Men are trapped in my world.

Back At It With Twitter

So, here we are again at the top of the semester, looking at my lacking Twitter activity:

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Don’t worry. I’ll find my groove as the semester picks up. Look forward to more 3 AM tweets as I continue working late into the night on my thesis :))))))))

~Till next time~

@myFBIagent Till always~

 

I’m Unique…Like Everyone Else

If anything, delving into online data tracking has made it readily apparent just how much of our information is, well, readily apparent. Just about every application you could conceive of using is tracking you to some extent. Don’t believe me? Sounds far-fetched? Well, there are plenty of sites you can explore that will break down for you how different forms of online data tracking work.

This week, were provided a list of different sites in the class blog post that let you view how your own online activity is being tracked. Now, I know this post also said not to use sources shared in the class post for any additional blog posts. But, in this case, only brief summary of these sites were provided. Also, most people will not have the opportunity to explore every site more thoroughly. So, given those circumstances, it seems it would be helpful to have posts exploring the sites in more detail.

Anyway, justification for this post provided, let me get into what “Am I Unique?” does!

The site “Am I Unique?” allows users to discover how identifiable their own “device/browser fingerprint” is online as well as explore how comparable their fingerprint is to other users around the globe. Device/browser fingerprinting is “the systematic collection of information about a remote device, for identification purposes.” This kind of tracking seems like an inherent capability on most devices/browsers. The goal of this project seems to be to make people more aware of “cookieless monsters”. See, device/browser fingerprints are not a kind of tracking cookie or composed of many tracking cookies. Instead, it seems like a device/browser fingerprint is generated by you just connecting to a server. According to “Browser Fingerprinting: What Is It and What Should You Do About It?” by PixelPrivacy, “when you connect to the internet on your laptop or smartphone, your device will hand over a bunch of specific data to the receiving server about the websites you visit.” From your fingerprint, any interested party can find out all about your browser usage, operating systems, plugins, timezone, languages, screen resolution, as well as any other of your active settings. Essentially, your fingerprint will reveal what your computer looks like to someone else.

While this seems highly concerning to me, “Am I Unique?” points out that this fingerprint is a “double-edge sword”. Fingerprints can be used to fight fraud and hijacking and confirm that a user is a legitimate one. But, they can also be used to create a profile of you for advertisers as well as exploit you in other ways through targeted attacks. PixelPrivacy states, “Websites bulk-collect a large set of data of visitors in order to later use it to match against browser fingerprints of known users.” Even if your fingerprint isn’t used right away, it can be stored in a system for future targeting by a given entity.

And, this is all legal practice in the US right now.

More, this is not even the worst of it. There’s canvas fingerprinting as well (which deals with HTML5 coding–so I didn’t get too into it because I’m not familiar enough with the terminology). Essentially, your fingerprint is written into this code and freely accessible if you know where to look. The thing you want to look for is called the “canvas element”. I recommend checking out the wiki article if you want to know more about the mechanics of how this system works.

Anyway, “Am I Unique?” allows users to see for themselves how easy it is for their fingerprint to be accessed. Mainly, the site shows user what kind of data points are generated by their fingerprints.

For example, this is the overview of my fingerprint:

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The site breaks down how much of the sites you use are “unique” and kind of shows you how a site would collect this kind of info so they can target specific groups of people (like Windows 10 users). The site also provides some charts so you can see how specific parts of your user profile further break down.

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In this chart, you can see the browser break down of all the people who have used “Am I Unique?” around the world. It’s a little disconcerting and by a little, I mean a lot. You can also see the languages people search in:

2019-02-08 (4)

I like this one because it looks like a spider

It’s honestly wild just how much information about you can be extrapolated in like 30 seconds if that. I mean, this is just a broad overview of all the information that could so easily be accessed for any reason by anyone interested.

What’s very concerning about this kind of fingerprinting is that there is really nothing that can be done to totally eliminate it. If you want to use the Internet, you’re going to have to accept some minimum invasion of privacy. For most of us, it’s a massive invasion though. We don’t know to manage the online tracking of our data. More, we don’t even know what and how much is being tracked. For those concerned about their device/browser fingerprint, PixelPrivacy recommends: 1) Using private browsing methods (like going incognito) 2) Using plugins that block ads like AdBlock Plus, Disconnect, etc. 3) Disabling JavaScript & Flash 4) Installing Anti-Malwate Software 5) Using the TOR browser (if you’re serious) and 6) Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), of course. Now, all of these things have their downsides and can severely impact your Internet browsing experience (i.e cause slower loading times, interrupt the functioning of sites, etc.). It is important to weigh one’s concerns against the risks before making any decisions in this area.

Of course, what is most important is that we continue to try and educate ourselves on important online issues like data tracking and online privacy as well as continue to develop our digital literacy practices. Sites like “Am I Unique?” provide a lens through which we can better understand and conceptualize important issues like this that are, unfortunately and nefariously, often hidden from view. I highly recommend checking out this site in order to learn more about the importance of one’s browser fingerprint and about what this fingerprint can be used for.

***Edit: I give this tool a in regards to how much light it sheds on the darkness of the web. It seems like it could be useful for providing clarity but, unfortunately, a lot of the languages used and a lot of the knowledge necessary to interpret this information is fairl inaccessible to a lot of users.

~Till next time~

Descending into Darkness…

So…. this past week was a bit of a mess.

I experienced some major and hella expensive car issues that made me wish for a self-driving car for the first time ever despite their numerous, reported issues.

Anyway, enough about my ever-growing list of issues. Let’s dive into the Internet’s f*ckery~

The Dark Substance of the Internet

This week, discussion started off light enough with an introductory reading on alchemy and the creation and nature of this ancient magic’s digital form. This reading was also meant to provide an exercise for those of us unfamiliar with hypothes.is. (I am clearly not I will give anyone a piece of my mind anytime, in the margins or otherwise). Anyway, I found this reading to be both nostalgiac and an informative refresher on the true history of what we are delving into in this class. I made some comments here and there that are informed by my own experience with this kind of “magic” as well as my by own perspective I have been developing on burgeoning digital practices of creation and communication in the course of my thesis (check that blog for some real nonsense). In my second comment, I liken the concepts of “alternative facts” and “post-truth” to a kind of modern-day alchemical process in which words and semantics are transmogrified to horrible effect. This generated some interesting discussion on the nature of truth and reality itself. I’m not sure if I really have any answers to the questions posed about the nature of realty and of truth but I do know there are some statements and facts we all agree are “true” and create something “real” and I believe that it is important to acknowledge when opposing statements made to these self-evident truths are made not just to identify a “glitch in our matrix” but with the intent to vindicate a perspective on the  deserves no consideration let alone vindication. Contemplating the nature of truth and reality is a fun, philosophical exercise but it is important to remember that many people these days are not challenging the nature of truth and reality to pose a philosophical argument or to play devil’s advocate; they are doing it to forward some reprehensible and downright disgusting agendas that have very real consequences.

Anyway, rant over, I also want to shout-out the shout-out our “Gandalf” gave Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, I hope. It’s always cool to find out that some thing we love is actually a part of meaningful and robust tradition ^.^

snappymustang

Enjoy a snappy Mustang~

In addition to exploring this reading, we also took a deeper delve into the dark upper, middle, and lower belly of online advertising. I read up on the history of the medium as well as considered the nature of “surveillance capitalism“. Horrifyingly enough, this concept is not just some Orwellian idea. (Though, perhaps it is Kafkaesque???) Essentially, we and everything we do becomes a marketable quantity for advertisers. When a system allows for this kind of advertising to occur, there is an incentive created for 24/7 surveillance. Me looking up pictures of megabats at 3 AM is very valuable information, you know??? Wouldn’t want to miss it.

Anyway, to be honest and, as I mentioned in my last post, I and I’m sure many other people, especially in my generation and younger, kind of already accept that we are constantly being monitored. If you’re living in a surveillance state and you know it, clap your hands. What many of us may not understand is what exactly is being monitored and why that information is being monitored. I think for many people, still, it is very difficult understand how advertising works in this 21-century, digital age. More, the process seems so utterly unbelievable as to be whole dismissed as “fake news”.

This thread by user @hypervisible provides a long laundry list of ludicrous facts about not only the ways we are constantly being surveilled but about the things that are actually able to be surveilled. I was asked to pick just one from this long list that stood out to be as horribly absurd and troubling but, honestly, I find myself simultaneously horrified and not horrified/surprised in the slightest by any of these facts. Certain students are encouraged by targeted ads to drop out? Of course more labor for the Capitalist machine. Jeff Bezos is deleting 1984 off Kindles remotely??? Ironic and of course. Apple and Google don’t care about their employees? Duh.

Our descent into this night has not been gentle.

Perhaps I’m jaded and disillusioned and I’m a bit too much of a nihilist at heart but so much of what is currently happening in the so-called “darkness” is something many of us have seen written bright as day on the wall for years. The Internet has always had this potential to be something so magical and to be something that can extend beyond its boundaries but it is these same qualities that seem to have made it into what it has become today. That potential and that magic came with a great responsibility that was not observed. Advertising in online spaces is only one of many evils/curses that has gotten out of hand due to a lack of foresight, oversight, and accountability. There is also this distinct lack of humanity and common decency that also seems to be propelling this evil further and further, out of the dark reaches straight into our homes and our hands. Nothing is ever going to change if we don’t decide to care. My disillusionment and resignment with the system is not merely a symptom; It’s also a cause.

I believe that there is a cure to every curse. If not a reversal, a nullification, at least. Perhaps that is the kind of magic we should care more about finding.

****

Daily Digital Alchemies

This week, I shared some bot recommendations. I had the opportunity to explore bots as well as making bots in early renditions of this course. I think they are a lot of fun and can be used as a tool to tell some compelling, nonlinear narratives ^.^

Also, I got to play around with one of my fave, little sites clash. I think it’s a really simple but interesting way to see how online spaces can be used in collaboration with other mediums.

Lastly, I decided to contribute in absentia and mad late to last week’s in-class DDA. I decided to share a picture of some of the thoughtful clutter cluttering my IRL space. In this photo, I have an old & beloved stuffed cat Beanie Baby (named Dicey) on top of a pop vinyl Dementor stacked atop a stack of Edgar Allen Poe books–the go-to gift when a family member doesn’t know what to get me. Overtly, there is contrast between the Dementor & the Edgar Allen Poe books and the Beanie Baby. To me, there is a contrast between the nightmare fuel and the object that brought me comfort from my nightmares as a child being grouped together.

~Till next time~