A digital strategist I work with, Dan Robinson, shared this article earlier today.
In theory, any site that makes use of the Facebook open graph API can appear as something tracked by the facebook system. So if you see a “like” button, assume that your presence there is logged. That said, look at the kind of value you get from trading your information and behaviour: your actions become the currency to buy faster search interactions, more personalized results, and (in theory) higher quality information.
Beyond alarmism, I think the real issue is around intent and expectation: when you go to a site, are you entering into that space understanding this transaction you’re taking part in? For example, our expectations around privacy and conversation differ in our work spaces vs. in a meeting room vs. in the kitchen, and the web site is no different: we go to different sites with different expectations around the intent of those sites as pseudo-physical spaces. We might interact with a corporate site understanding that our behaviours are being logged and analyzed, but visit a friend’s home page not anticipating such invasions. It only becomes an invasion if it takes place surreptitiously: eyes hidden in a painting vs. merely a panoptic dome.
For me, this raises very major questions around the inherent honesty of surveillance. Cameras, security domes, sensors, and ATM machines are a constant tap into my life. Whether it’s a networked security camera or a measuring stick beside a door to help in identifying perpetrators of theft, these are different environmental manifestations of my information being taken from me. However, their physical presence allows me to make the conscious decision: do I interact with this environment, or do I seek an alternative? Is trading my information worth the convenience this environment provides? The visibility of physical surveillance objects affords me the capacity to make these decisions.
The same can apply to Facebook and other sides of web surveillance. A “Like” button is the digital equivalent of a domed security camera attached to an ATM machine: it observes your behaviour and your actions as you walk by, but it’s only when you interact with it that you perceive a transaction as taking place. But imagine if you could wave that transaction fee if you looked directly at the camera, giving it a moment to visually scan you. Would that be worth $1.50?
Look at Google analytics code, hidden in the structure of a page and providing rich data about the environment and user. Did you know I’m using google analytics on this page? Do you know what I’m optimizing and tweaking based on how you interact with my site? Do you know that Google’s doing the same? You can’t know this unless you look at the structure and bones of my site, observing the painting closely, or assume from cultural norms.
Now consider the modern or near-modern retail store: RFIDs, time and purchase correlated visas, and behavioural patterns. Vegetables placed at the front, meats placed at the back, wayfinding designed to take you around an environment primed with desire-inducing cues. Is this a transaction between consenting parties, or the informational pilfering of our capacity to decide?
We need environments that communicate what they are and how we are to interact with them, and in so doing, appreciate that the steady gaze and skittering pen of behavioural analytics is party to these interactions. We need indications that sites are tracking our behaviour. We need an opt-out button on ATM machines, or indicators for RFID-enabled products. As a somewhat weak example, I’ve added the following to the footer of my site:
I make use of Google Analytics. Please feel free to opt out.
Maybe not the best solution, but does this information help? Let’s see… using google analytics.