Is Big Brother Getting Bigger?

By Lindsay Noonan

Are you ever startled when you see the pair of heels you’ve been eyeing at Bloomingdales pop up on the side of your Facebook page? We have started to become accustomed to seeing our recent online shopping favorites follow us on our social media platforms and haunt us until we press the “Confirm Payment” button. This is exactly what advertising agencies seek from consumers. The business of consumer data has exploded and has become very competitive with technology companies taking advantage of their user data to place targeted advertisements. The recent merger of advertising giants Omnicon and Publicis has created the largest global advertising company, and is now trailing Google in the business of “Big Data”. (http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/morning-agenda-advertising-in-the-business-of-big-data/?_r=0). Internet privacy has been a concern for nearly a decade now, ever since the advent of “cookies” in 1994. (http://idfive.com/insight/whitepapers/dirty-secret-behind-user-data-collection-tracking) Our online behavior, from searches, browsing, and purchases, is now constantly being tracked, recorded, bought and sold, diminishing all aspects of internet user privacy. Some users don’t mind, as they would rather be exposed to content and advertisements that are tailored to their interests, needs and wants. However, it’s hard to deny that being watched so intensely without our permission can feel invasive and, well, creepy.

On a whole other spectrum, is this leading to the dissipation of dialogue? As our online presence is dominated with targeted articles and information, we are being less and less exposed to opposing viewpoints and different perspectives. This could be detrimental to our societal interactions and knowledge.

Devising standards and guidelines for using big data in an ethical fashion poses many difficulties and raises concerns. First and foremost to be tackled is the issue of transparency, or lack there of. It’s no surprise that big data has both advantages and disadvantages to our society and culture; it’s a matter of how it is utilized and regulated. And so with time, new waves of technology and the compromising use of information, the Data Wars prevail. The question is: how big will Big Brother get?

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