Someone's Watching Me

Privacy. That safe and comfortable feeling you get when you walk in your front door and discover no one’s home. No one watching you as you walk around your house in your onesie or that old t-shirt, you know the one with the five or six holes and stained with pizza sauce, paint and bleach that you refuse to throw away.

No one chiming in on what pizza toppings you should get on that pizza you’re ordering online because you don’t want to actually go outside or talk to anyone on the phone. Especially since, you just spent all day socializing with people, some of whom you would have preferred not to.

No one telling you that you’re being lazy as you ignore the pile of dishes in the sink and the work you’ve begrudgingly brought home with you, and instead scroll through your twitter feed. No one giving you their input on the slightly ridiculously named Jordan’s that just came out that you want so badly.

But come on let’s be real, there’s no such thing as privacy. You were being watched as soon as you started ordering that pizza. Actually you were being watched as you stood at the bus stop, looking up when Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice would be coming out.

(Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice- Official Teaser Trailer

I know what you’re thinking kay, why would anyone be watching me specifically and who for that matter? Unless you’re thinking that you’re so awesome, that anyone would be crazy to not want to watch you. Let me just knock the latter of y’all off your high horse, while making the former feel a little more comforted in the knowledge that it isn’t just you being tracked, it’s everyone.

As for who is watching you, pretty much every website or form of social media you have ever been on. Martha White, the Time’s writer of the article *Big Data Knows What You’re Doing Right Now* reminds us, “Information is currency, but we tend to forget that. The explosion of social media and the use of Facebook as a log-in for everything from news sites to online retailers gives data companies a much deeper peek into your personal life and tells them much more about your likes, preferences and habits.”

(More: *Why Companies Care About What You Do Online)

Welcome to today’s episode of Inquery, “Someone’s Watching Me” I’m Rivawn J. Clarke. I probably sound rather nasally right now and I apologize. I’m in the middle of a cold at the moment and it’s absolutely lovely. But back to today’s topic, I honestly had no idea what web usage mining was until I started doing research for this podcast. So, today I will explain why web usage mining affects you specifically and I will also transfer on the knowledge of what it is, and how and why they are able to impede on our privacy.

Now most of you are probably thinking, “Everyone knows everything online is public and it’s not rocket science to know that websites track the traffic on their site, so why even bring it up?”

Well because I like stating the obvious and remember back in January when your Facebook timeline was probably flooded with people saying things like, “In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc..." You might have been one of these people. Which continued on for a good paragraph attempting to sound legal. All the while looking like those spam emails we use to get all the time. Usually about some dead prepubescent youth that would come haunt and kill you, if you didn’t send the email on to ten of your friends.

So apparently not everyone knows that not only what they view and do online is being watched, but that it is also being tracked, collected, sorted and sold to other companies. Even those that do know are likely made nervous and uncomfortable at the thought that random people have access to their online lives and can do what they please with that knowledge.

Kay, so let’s get through a brief description of what web usage mining is and why it’s used before we get into anything else. ‘Cause otherwise you’re going to be sitting there looking like a confused puppy, and imma feel bad for you.

I recently read a couple of articles one of them being *Web Usage Mining for Website Evaluation* by Myra Spiliopoulou, I’m sorry if I butchered your name. She explains that “Web usage [mining] is a long process of learning to see a Web site from the perspective of its users.” Meaning this process is used to see how we, the public, view a website. Now I had to do a little more digging to try to understand what exactly this process entails.

Which is when I found the article *A Web Usage Mining Approach Based on LCS Algorithm in Online Predicting Recommendation Systems* by Mehrdad Jalali and his peers from Universiti Putra Malaysia. They discuss that “the Internet is one of the fastest growing areas of intelligence gathering. During their navigation web users leave many records of their activity. This huge amount of data can be a useful source of knowledge. Advanced [data mining] processes are needed for this knowledge to be extracted, understood and used. Web Usage Mining … systems are specifically designed to carry out this task by analyzing the data representing usage data about a particular Web Site. [Web usage mining] can model user behavior and … forecast … future movements.”

That may have seemed a little…um, dry and wordy for some of you. So I talked to Joshua Clarke a website developer, who shockingly isn’t related to me, which is slightly surprising ‘cause I don’t meet a lot Clarke’s that end with an ‘e’ like myself. He simplified and broke down web usage mining for me. He also gave me an example of a system that is commonly used, by almost every company you could possibly think of, called Google analytics.

Google analytics tracks each time a link from a website or application is clicked, who clicked it, what sites they visit on average, what kind of browsing they tend to do on average, and even what kind of device they’re using. It then takes the averages of everybody clicking on whom ever company’s link it is and puts together sets of data that can then be used on their Google Analytics account. I’m going to need us all to just pause for a quick sec and take in exactly how cool that is.

I mean come on, within seconds companies know everything there is to know about you. I realize that not everyone will share my views of how interesting I think this is because it could be either a good thing and prove beneficial to our day-to-day lives, by making simple life choices easier for us. Or it could destroy lives, if our information falls into the wrong hands. So I could see why a lot of people would find this downright creepy, invasive, and disregards their right to privacy. I’d have to say I’m inclined to agree with you, and I’m not the only one.

(More: Why It’s Beneficial For Companies to Invade our Privacy)

It has been acknowledged by experts in the field of data mining that privacy can be a problem when it comes to web usage mining. Data mining is simply the process of finding patterns in large sets of data, while web usage mining is one of the techniques used in this process, the technique we’re discussing.

Maysoon Al-Dekhail, vice chair of the Information System Department at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, brings up this very problem in her article *Application and Significance of Web Usage Mining in the 21st Century: A Literature Review *which is being published in the International Journal of Computer Theory and Engineering.

She states, “Recently, privacy has been defined as one of the problems of data collection … especially data that are related to query or transaction users or to social networks that have valuable personal information. Web usage mining tools…[such as] web logs, cookies or explicit user entries…increase the problem of privacy violation.”

In a nutshell things like online shopping or anything else that require purchases, or has access to your personal information like credit card numbers, addresses, social insurance numbers, etc. are more likely to have issues with privacy. Things like web server logs, cookies, and explicit user entries also enhance the privacy issue that could come from outside servers such as hackers.

Al-Dekhail also talks about ways for companies to deal with the issue of user privacy such as with the use of the Privacy Preferences standard. This standard enables websites to state their privacy practices in a user friendly form. Similarly the clear disclosure of data and methods to enable user understanding of system assumptions about them [and] provide a number of anonymization methods to help users protect their anonymity.

This pretty much means terms of service, cookie notifications and disclaimers. I know I said you were right about web usage mining impeding on your privacy, but I’m here to tell you that it’s you that give them the right to do it. “The way we blindly click “okay” on privacy policies, geolocate where we want to eat and play games with our friends on mobile apps to kill time, we’re basically putting it all on the table,” White warns us. We give them permission to invade our virtual space. Gasp shocking I know.

Let us travel back to those Facebook posts I referred to earlier, that news channels quite rightly called ‘The Facebook privacy hoax’. The CBC actually posted quite a humourous article called ‘Facebook privacy hoax dupes users into sharing bogus 'copyright' notice with friends’, ( http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2015/01/facebook-privacy-hoax-dupes-users-into-sharing-bogus-copyright-notice-with-friends.html ). Where they discuss how pointless all the posts are because Facebook users must agree to the company's legal terms of service upon registering for an account.

Facebook’s terms and services clearly states, "For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings."

It also states “You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it."

This is pretty much informing you that you sold your online identity to them, to use as they wish. Just so you could stalk your ex, see how much more miserable people are compared to you, keep up with the Jones’, and give status updates about basically everything. And for what?

On another note there’s terms of service that apply specifically to Germans. I have no idea what it says but I’ll post a link and you can translate it if you’d like. I’m curious to know why only Germans have terms and services specifically for them but, I can only read in English. So, yeah.

Now I want you to recall the website developer Joshua Clarke that I spoke about previously. It’s fine if you can’t we live in a world of short term memory. Well I also asked him if web usage mining impedes on user privacy. His answer, “Oh definitely…[but] the terms of service or a disclaimer protects a company or entity, it is much like the release form I signed for this. It pretty much says here you go, this is what you can expect from us. This is what we are legally liable for. This is what you are legally liable for. This is what is up in the air. This is what we guarantee, this is what we don’t guarantee. It’s really what you want the end user to say within your legal bounds... [it’s] a contract with the site saying I visit you and I consent with your terms of my visit.”

The same goes for the cookie notifications that you just click okay to or simply just exit the box, you read or at least should have read what it said. It notifies you what the cookie is doing and usually why it is doing, what it is doing. Whether you chose to read it or not is not the company’s problem, if you did not like what they were doing you could simply leave the site, it’s not that complicated.

It means that whether you like or don’t like what web usage mining does, doesn’t really matter. Your privacy is the price you pay for each site you visit and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Privacy is non-existent, unless you’re a hermit, because in some way or another we give it away with little thought.

We give it away because we don’t know we’re giving it away. We give it away because well we don’t read. We give it away simply because we wanted pizza, or to buy a new item, or check out what our friends and family are up to, or to find some form of information or entertainment ironically without having to go outside of the privacy and comfort of our own homes.

Privacy is a big thing in a society where everything is accessible at our finger tips. Our identity is sacred to us, we don’t want just any Tom, Dick or Sally having access to it. We may be completely content and even encourage invading celebrities’ personal lives for our own entertainment, exposing them for all to see. Trying to figure out what makes them tick, their flaws, their guilty pleasures, what they do, why they do things, what they like, what they don’t like, what they eat and what they wear. Being put on display, exposed and venerable scares us though, especially because it’s all being done without us noticing.

Even if we do know and are opposed to giving up our privacy, and decide not to accept their conditions, we are then limited to what information the internet has to offer. It makes us wonder; what else is being done that we don’t know about or have little control over? What else are we unknowingly allowing to take place as we sit in our ignorance? What does this tell us about ourselves? What does it all mean?

Well, these aren’t questions I have answers for and I probably stirred up some embers for conspiracy theorists, raising those questions.

That’s all for me today. If you’re curious to learn more about some of the more interesting things I said today, so pretty much everything I said in this podcast, you can find it in this specific episode’s transcript. But anyhoo thanks for tuning into “Someone’s Watching Me” on Inquery. This is Rivawn J Clarke and I’m out.