“Do Not Track:” How Much Is Too Much?

By: Alice Cavallo

How much information are you willing to give to surf on the web for “free”, and at what cost? Are you aware of what you are actually giving up, to whom, and what for?

The 2015 online interactive documentary series Do Not Track created and directed by Brett Gaylor is raising awareness about internet privacy and data collection. By tracking your every move and then revealing you a creepy amount of information about yourself, this serialized documentary mimics what actually happens every second you spend clicking, liking or sharing content on the web. Gaylor created a personalized experience that caters to each individual, where both the narrator’s identity and language are determined by geographic location and gleaned from the user’s IP address. The data is also obtained by inviting users to log onto Facebook, take a survey, or enter the address of a frequently visited website. The experience serves as an exposé of how third-party trackers deduce not only who your celebrity crush is and what kind of shoe brand you like, but also use that information to influence your digital behavior and shape your online worldview. Corporations such as Twitter, Google, and Facebook compile and extrapolate vast amounts of private information from your online activities, and then sell it to advertisers. Your online self is auctioned in real time, in less than a blink of an eye, to the highest bidder on the web.

Facebook’s algorithms also decide what kind of news you get to see and read based on the influence of the people you follow and your online whereabouts. You might be initially pleased by the working of this algorithm, which solely allows you to reinforce all your biases, clouding you from what exists outside of your social circles and personal beliefs. But as the algorithmic monster keeps on feeding itself, challenging the notion of media transparency, does it inform users, or is it just optimizing clicks, traffic, and ads, striving to maintain your online status on the web’s playground as long as possible?

News publishers have become increasingly reliant on social media platforms to boost their content, as 30% of Americans are getting their news from social networks like Facebook, as stated in the documentary Do Not Track. But the more publishers rely on social distribution to keep up with new consumer habits, the more they lose their credibility as reporters of “facts.” The answer to the question, “who owns the news consumer – Free press or Silicon Valley giants?” has done nothing but leaning more towards the side of Silicon Valley for the past couple of years, leaving publishers and journalists practically at the mercy of these new systems of power.

Do Not Track eventually wants to make it clear that by demanding all-free access to the Internet, you must sacrifice personal details about yourself as a form of currency that will also buy you permanent online surveillance. But Brett Gaylor also wants you to know that there are ways you can protect your own data, starting with a list of steps you can take to create a more privacy-friendly world. If you want to change our future, go to https://episode7.donottrack-doc.com/en/change-our-future/.

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