First Click: If we’re gonna get our data mined, at least buy us dinner first

June 5th, 2015


Stalking is more common than we like to think. We all do it: people do it with Google to vet dates, while Google (and others) does it with people to mine data. The key — the difference between creepy and cool — is knowing what to reveal, and when.

We used to employ that neural network called the “brain” to track down people in phone books. Just knowing a name would quickly lead to a physical address and phone number (ironically, the same data we find way too personal to share publicly today).

With the internet, knowing a name lets us quickly find a person’s Instagrams, Tweets, and Facebook profile in order to build a fairly accurate profile for the purposes of woo. But subtlety is the key. For example, you’ll score points when you just happen to choose a restaurant your date reviewed highly on Yelp. Serendipity, cool! Betraying your data mining activities on a first date by asking “Will you be ordering the clams again?” will out you as a creep.

Same goes for companies.

A study published today found that people are resigned to the fact that they’re being profiled — but they don’t like being reminded of the specifics. According to The New York Times:

"Forty-three percent of respondents said they would accept a discount if the supermarket where they shopped kept detailed records of their purchases. But only 19 percent said they would accept discounts if the supermarket could use their purchasing history to make assumptions about their race or ethnicity."

Yet the study also shows that companies can earn our trust by being transparent with the data they collect and by offering us a semblance of control. Google did just that earlier this week by rolling out its new privacy hub for control, and privacy site for transparency. The trick is not revealing too much too soon.

Google starts by presenting all the user benefits for collecting your data (relevant ads, malware protection; faster, smarter, better services), before dispelling myths ("we do not sell your personal information"), and providing links to the privacy control tools. It’s only when you dig deeper that you find a list of all the information Google collects in order to build its advertising profiles. Still, to Google’s credit, you can find it if you’re willing to look. Most people aren’t. In fact, most get a sense of reassurance just knowing these types of sites exist, regardless of what they say. According to the same study:

"Many consumers may not fully comprehend the data-mining practices that occur when they use sites and apps. For instance, 58 percent of survey respondents wrongly believed that when a website had a privacy policy, it meant that the site would not share their information without their permission."

Fifty. Eight. Percent.

Look, we’re no better than Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, or Apple. We mine data, they mine data, and nobody wants to be a creep.

Five stories to start your day

  1. Laughing and crying my way through the new Google Photos

    The feature that compelled me to upload all my photos in full resolution, however — despite fears that I Am The Product — is that Google Photos offers an experience that delights. The service delights by making it easy to search my memories for "family," "Falmouth," or "Christmas 2012." It delights by making it easy to explore my photos using the People, Places, and Things filters, without me having to do any work to tag or categorize. As a product designer married to an avid photographer, I appreciate how easy and intuitive all this is.

  2. Snowden celebrates the world’s rejection of surveillance two years after NSA leaks

    Two years after the revelation that the National Security Agency was spying on millions of innocent citizens, Edward Snowden has declared that the "balance of power is beginning to shift." Writing in The New York Times, Snowden claims that a "post-terror generation" is emerging that refuses to justify the practice of mass surveillance out of fear. "For the first time since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason," says Snowden.

  3. FDA advisory committee recommends approval of controversial 'female Viagra'

    An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted today to back the approval of a drug meant to boost the libido of women who struggle with decreased sex drive. In an 18-6 vote, the committee decided to recommend that the FDA approve the drug, Flibanserin, given certain labeling and risk management conditions, The Washington Post reports.

  4. The government's personnel office has been hacked by China for the second time in a year

    The Office of Personnel Management has been compromised by hackers with links to the Chinese government, federal investigators announced today. The agency manages clearance and employee records for every federal agency, and investigators say more than 4 million workers had personal data compromised by the attack. The data is generally personal but not highly classified, comprising background checks, addresses and other personnel information.

  5. Wow, this dog earns GIF of the year

    I am not exactly a happy-go-lucky person, so I don't say this lightly: this GIF makes me so, so happy. Look at that dog(e), seen on Reddit earlier today. Getting her paddle on, slowly being lowered into the bath. She's not even worried, completely chill in the face of a tub full of water. Watch it again. Look at that tongue pop out. And, of course, it's a shibe, the internet's dog of choice. This is a perfect storm of a GIF, the best GIF of the year, and it's only June. You're welcome.

Creeper of the day