The social dilemma shows how our data is tracked

The social dilemma shows how our data is tracked
The social dilemma shows how our data is tracked
Tristan Harris, the former Google design ethicist featured in the documentary, shared Age and Der Sydney Morning Herald far more people have broken away from social media after watching it than he expected.

“The movie’s goal isn’t just to get everyone to delete the apps from their phones,” he says. “We all know that this is not to be expected of everyone … I think what has changed is that it creates a global common consensus on a problem.”

To uncover the extent of the problem, I set out to find out how much information I had willingly given to tech giants over the years.

Requesting my data from Facebook, which is valued at $ 774 billion ($ 1090 billion) and also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, took just 10 minutes to retrieve the 338 megabytes of data stored about me.

The information includes every time I log into Facebook, the IP addresses and locations I logged in from, every photo I posted, posts I commented on, event invitations, and any friend request I’ve ever turned it down (We’re sorry).

However, Doctor Belinda Barnet, a media lecturer at Swinburne University, says this information is just the beginning of the data Facebook holds about me.

“What Facebook calls platform data is things they think are proprietary, like the like button, how long you hover over a post, or how fast you scroll, how you interact with the platform,” she says . “That reveals a lot of information about you, but you will never get that data. They don’t think you own them like the pictures you post. ”

All of the information we post on Facebook is categorized and advertisers can use these categories to target advertisements.

Advertisers can search based on the relationship status of a single, engaged, open relationship, separated, domestic partnership, civil union, divorced, widowed, or “complicated” person, and based on life events such as a new job, newlywed, outside of the family or in the family are aiming for a long-distance relationship.

Jim Stewart, founder of digital marketing agency StewArt Media, says the categorization is so extensive that he can target people on Facebook who are interested in “pets (but only cats)” if he wants.

He says advertisers can also target people who love to travel by accessing anyone who has posted a vacation picture on Facebook.

“You can volunteer your date of birth on Facebook, but even if you don’t, Facebook can probably algorithmically work it out from the messages people post,” he says. “I call it creepy creepy good because it’s creepy and creepy, but the ability to aim from a marketing standpoint is pretty powerful.”

A spokesman for Facebook would not comment on whether the platform is exposed to any user reaction due to the documentary, and says the company’s user base continues to grow.

The spokesman referred to the response from Facebook The social dilemma Released earlier this month where it questions the documentary’s claims and says it buries substance into sensationalism.

The documentary argues that technology and social media companies are deliberately designed to be addictive and to take advantage of our data through “surveillance capitalism” where users are the product.

“In this system we are the whale, we are the tree, we are worth more when we are broken down for our attention,” says Harris.

“You are not the product,” it says in the response from Facebook. “We provide advertisers with reports on the types of people seeing their ads and the performance of their ads. However, we do not pass on any information that personally identifies you, unless you give us permission. ”

Facebook claims The social dilemma gives a skewed view of how social media platforms work to create a “convenient scapegoat” for “difficult and complex societal problems”.

Tick ​​Thank you

While Facebook is the most popular social media network, TikTok is rapidly catching up, especially among younger populations, at an estimated $ 100 billion.

TikTok has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide, with an estimated 2.5 million users in Australia and a 50 percent increase in users since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and the government has raised concerns that the platform could be used to compile an extensive digital database of users that could be shared with the Chinese Communist Party.

I requested a download of my information from TikTok and it took several days for it to arrive, even though it was only about 700 megabytes.

The data includes my favorite effects, hashtags, sounds, my followers and following lists, login history, video browsing history and chat history.

Given the controversy surrounding the app, the data TikTok collected was quite limited, although admittedly I have never posted on TikTok as I only use it for work.

TikTok wouldn’t comment The social dilemma or the data it collects.


The tech company with the most data on record about me was Google, with a market cap of over $ 1 trillion.

Data specialist Jia Du, founder of the DuData agency, said Google’s tentacles are everywhere, and that many of the Internet’s “back-ends” are paid for and operated by the tech giant.

A request to export my Google data involved downloads of 46 different Google products, including all of the data from my calendar, emails and maps, as well as Google Pay, Chrome and YouTube, which Google also owns, and which has been expanded to 14 gigabytes of data .

In my advertising preferences, Google rated me as a 35- to 44-year-old woman married with children, and rated my household income as high “because your login activity on Google services is similar to people who told Google they were in of this category are “.

It flags my interests as baked goods (correct), action / adventure films (incorrect), and accounting and finance software (not so much, although I’m doing my tax return right now that might explain this).

A Google spokesman declined to comment but referred to its online security center, which stated that the online search giant is not selling users’ personal information.

“We use data to show relevant ads in Google products, on partner websites and in mobile apps,” it says. “While these ads help fund our services and make them free for everyone, your personal information is not for sale.”

You say Google is “overly sensitive” to its use of data and very cautious about selling to advertisers, but note that the information that tech giants consider personal information is sometimes limited.

“Anything that has my name, tax number, or traditional identifiers attached to it is considered personal information,” she says. “A device ID – for example my cell phone ID – is not considered personal information, although it is a very small step to link it to my account and then to me.”

The protection of Australians’ personal information is an issue of which Australian Information Commissioner and Data Protection Officer Angelene Falk is aware.

Her office is seeking civil sanctions against Facebook, claiming it has had serious and repeated invasions of privacy.

“Our compliance and enforcement focus is on technologies and business practices that record, monitor, track, and rely on opaque information sharing practices,” she says. “Australians today see many of the greatest privacy risks online.”

She wants regulatory changes to address concerns about these emerging practices, including reform of the Data Protection Act.


Regulating data collection is important, Harris said, but we also need to look at how that data is used by tech companies to make predictions about us.

He quotes the book by Yuval Noah Harari SapiensThis is the example of someone who never tells Facebook they are gay, but Facebook knows this from their click patterns before they even know themselves.

“Once this information is available, advertisers can target it without you knowing about themselves, and that’s a dangerous asymmetry of power,” he says. “The point [of reform] is to change the entire ecosystem. ”

Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in Melbourne

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