Digital Fingerprinting is the latest development in a long history of mass media. Many in the tech community believe that this new trend is set to ensure a bright future for the big data industry, increasingly focused on web traffic analytics and digital marketing opportunities. For those of us who use the internet to learn and access information, these new surveillance tools might be dangerous.
Consider that the world you know is a facade. Much of what you know about the world was learned through various inscriptions: books, news articles, movies, and television shows. Thanks to big data and digital fingerprinting, these inscriptions are increasingly tailored for you specifically. Google search results are shaped, book recommendations are adjusted, news websites promote 'trending' articles – all in accordance with a digital profile designed to target you specifically. This may not be a conspiracy, but when we look at new digital fingerprinting techniques, we might want to think carefully about the world we think we know.
You Are Being Watched
You might be surprised (or weirded out) by the sophisticated level of surveillance being conducted by websites and third-party apps. Researchers at Princeton University recently discovered a variety of techniques being used to identify your web browsing – even without cookies, user agreements, or registration.
For example, business analysts can look at how many fonts you have installed on your computer, and because fonts are often downloaded automatically when you go to certain websites or install certain programs, this list is often unique to your computer. They can also track behavior between two or more devices, looking at the cluster of IP addresses they use, to infer that the same person is using both devices. Although you're not identifiable by name, a 'digital fingerprint' is created that allows companies and digital marketers to shape the content you encounter.
These are relatively new techniques for mass data collection. The technology is new, but the process is rather old. If we look back to the early 20th century, we see the rise of 'mass media' as a source of cultural control. Television and radio programs centralized the production and distribution of cultural content in the hands of a small group of corporate executives. Board rooms decided what did and did not make it onto the air. Television and radio became primary sources of news and information – the very tools by which the average consumer learned about the world they inhabit were held firm in the hands of the men in charge.
The Fear Of Information
The fear, for many, was that this would create very skewed and distorted world views; that we would essentially become cultural dupes. Starting in the 1970s, the solution to this problem was to put cultural production back in the hands of the masses. Independent film, music, art, and culture was seen as a sort of revolution against the tyranny of broadcast media. You can imagine how excited these revolutionaries must have been when they saw the birth of the internet.
For a moment, it seemed as though the internet would give us a world where personal expression and creativity flowed freely, easily distributed through web of networks. Tragically this liberation was short-lived. As web systems became more complex, control over the production and distribution of cultural content once again returned to the hands of those in power. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft became omnipresent figures, seemingly woven into the fabric of the internet. The web has become a marketing opportunity, a place to research and exploit patterns in human behavior.
There is hope, however, as we have alternative means of controlling the flow and distribution of digital content, using apps like Ghostery to hide your digital fingertips, or DuckDuckGo to search outside of your digital neighborhood. The internet continues to grow and expand. New techniques and methods for the collection of your data and preferences continue to be developed to gain insight into your behaviors and to create marketing profiles based on your interent data. Online privacy and protection will continue to be hot topics today and well into the future. To learn more about how to protect your company and users, contact SWAG at 866-480-4335 today.