Blog Post

A Consideration on Contributing to Big Data

    I’m a true millennial. I have Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, FaceTime, an iPhone, an iPad, two computers, online banking, and probably about ten or more other ways that I am constantly “connected”. Somehow, I trick myself into believing that I tend to stay away from things that give away personal data. Because of my state of denial, paired with a morbid curiosity to prove myself wrong, I decided to spend a day tracking my contributions to Big Data. 


    On the day that I chose to record my contributions to Big Data, I was hyper-aware of my actions. Whether or not this means that I skimped on some of my habits, I can’t say for sure, but to ere on the side of caution, I’d say this particular day was more conservative than most. Despite my attempts at avoiding contributing information to Big Brother, I've found giving away information is unavoidable in the age of the computer, like it or not, unless you're a hermit. Even still, I'm sure you'd give away information to some extent. You have to buy groceries at some point.


            First thing in the morning on Friday, I logged on to Amazon to find out when my book for one of my classes was going to arrive. As per usual, there's a "recommended for you" panel in the middle of the screen. There, I found links to fun printed socks and Disney merchandise —items similar to what I had been looking up for my friend's birthday gift on Google, Amazon, and other websites such as Etsy. There, at 8:00 in the morning, I saw them — Lion King socks! "Score," I thought. Why didn't I think of that? This was when I truly thanked the Big Data Gods for their help in the arduous task of finding my friend a birthday gift. I placed the order. As if magic, at the bottom of the check out screen, another panel appeared. "You may also like..." it tempted me. Yes, Amazon, I would love more Disney themed apparel. Well played.


            It was at this time, I logged onto Facebook, where the side panel advertisements were filled with Disney merchandise from various retailers. I was not at all interested in more Disney socks. However, an advertisement slipped into the middle of my Newsfeed reminding me that it was a "magical time" to plan my next Disney vacation. Yes, Facebook, I think you’re on to something. My husband and I honeymooned there this past summer and have been plotting our next vacation to Disney in October. Shopping for Disney items made these types of advertisements show up on my news feed! I immediately text my husband at work to remind him to call our friendly Disney travel agent. 


            Next, I google things about my new camera. I begin reading up about camera equipment and lighting, starting a business, and looking at idea books online. I watched a video about lighting for boudoir photography, which is one of my main focuses. I pulled up Youtube later to watch a music video, and everything in my related videos was about cameras and boudoir photography. To top it all off, when I refreshed Facebook, I saw ads for camera equipment, photography classes, and lighting equipment! What a genius way to make me spend money.


            After my only Friday class, I sat in the hallway waiting for my husband to pick me up from campus. While I was there I checked my school email, where I have about twenty-five new emails from retailers, my mother, and my doctor's office reminding me of appointments. For a moment, I wonder if the school monitors these things. And if they did, what did they think about me as a student? They must think I get nothing done with all of the online shopping I do. One of my doctors is a therapist. I go there as a way to manage stress and adjust to marriage with my husband. It was encouraged by family before we got married and we just kind of kept going every once in a while to make sure we adjust to this huge life change. But when will the school one day delve into that one appointment reminder email and request details from me to make sure that I'm okay mentally to continue in school? Another email was from my Google calendar reminding me to sign up for a basic gun class I plan to take. What if emails like that eventually are monitored, flagging me as a potential threat, when the real story is that I am considering starting a family soon, and I feel more comfortable when my husband is out of the house at night having something locked in the closet to protect should anything bad happen? When and will my political affiliations, medical information, hobbies, and other information be used against me and hinder me from getting a job? When will my lifestyle be tracked by insurance companies to raise and lower my insurance premiums based on my food intake and activity?


    Lastly, I went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription. While I was there, I bought a few more items, such as lotion, shampoo, disposable razors, and deodorant. I have a Balance Rewards card, a loyalty card that I scan with my purchases for product coupons, store coupons, and prescription discounts. The week before this purchase I bought toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels (I tend to do my paper shopping all at one time). When I checked out from this purchase, a coupon came out for two dollars off of Charmin toilet paper. Upon thinking about this, I realized what was happening. I normally do not buy Charmin products. About a week before, I bought toilet paper. I generally buy toilet paper every two weeks. I couldn’t help but wonder if since I buy toilet paper every two weeks, and I bought an off-brand toilet paper about a week prior to this, the system knew that giving me this coupon would be helpful. It also gave them an opportunity to get me to switch to a name brand product. It is so sneaky, but such a great way to improve revenue, and get the consumer to consume higher quality brands, thus spending more money!


            By the small amount of information that I thought I contributed to Big Data, people would probably assume I had a mental disorder (based on my calendar appointments and email reminders), and medical issues (due to the various doctors I go to and my prescriptions). They might also know that I am a student (purchasing textbooks), and a conservative (taking gun classes). Someone could ascertain that I am somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five because of my college textbooks. Based on the school email and me googling things about starting my own business, my general age could probably also be guessed. My hobbies and interests would be obvious: reading (based on amazon), Disney, and photography. I have loyalty cards for many other stores, so my clothing “style” could be guessed, as well as my location based on scanning loyalty cards at certain places around me. My place of residence could likely be guessed by charting the places I have scanned loyalty cards and the frequency I have scanned them. Addresses are usually something stores ask for when you sign up for a loyalty card, so it is very likely my address is out there somewhere. Most all of these positive factors of contributing to Big Data revolves around shopping, because as a consumer, shopping made easier for me is great, but it is also great for company’s revenues. Good consumers make strong companies.


    These things make up what I do, but not necessarily who I am. Wrong assumptions could be made from what I do with my time and money. The downside to these contributions to big data is just that — should I be gauged on what I buy? Can I be gauged on what I do and where I spend my time? Will this information about me be connected in some way in five years to make up a profile on me?


What contributions do you make to big data?




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