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THE COST OF ‘FREE’
“A critique of the modern data collection model and the surveillance
systems used by corporate entities to monitor our digital selves”
Introduction
The problem – The price of free. For all of the free services major
technology companies provide for us, at what cost do they come? Many
people are oblivious to what happens to their information online.
The context – it has only been in recent years that huge companies have
had to release public statements addressing what exactly they do with the
enormous amounts of data the collect from us on a daily basis, and this
research topic was used to investigate that
The method - I created a short animation and mock questionnaire to raise
awareness and the debate on what exactly are the costs of a free service?
The video is an over exaggerated interpretation on the critique the
modern data collection model and the surveillance of our digital lives.
The outcomes – The outcomes of this research topic will provide a deeper
insight into data collection and an understanding of how aware users are
of the information they are giving away and what exactly happens to it.
This study will highlight if any, the miss conceptions and cruxes of internet
cookies and personally tailored online advertising in a hope to help the
public understand how it work as well as assisting advertising outlets and
digital marketers by educating the user.
Literature Review
The price of free, free email, free connecting with friends, free search all this must come
at some cost, you could argue that companies are going to extreme lengths to mine your
data. Look at Facebook and Google two of the biggest grossing companies in the world.
Facebook trackers are just about everywhere on the Internet. But because most of
Facebook’s 1.49 billion users routinely access the service through an app, the ads cannot
be hidden even using one of the many blocker tools now topping the download charts on
Apple’s App Store.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-28/facebook-ads-
are-all-knowing-unblockable-and-in-everyone-s-phone
“We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services,
including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate
with others. This can include information in or about the content you provide, such as the
location of a photo or the date a file was created. We also collect information about how
you use our Services, such as the types of content you view or engage with or the
frequency and duration of your activities.” https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/
You do have the option delete your account, but Facebook actually reserves the right to
keep information and what others have shared about you. Because to Facebook, that
information isn’t yours.
Mark Hachman the Senior Editor at PCWorld states that Google Search, Gmail, Google
Maps, and its other services rank among the leaders in search optimisation. But all that
“free” adds up to a huge amount of your personal information being traded away to create
personalized, targeted ad experiences.
https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook-
microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html
Google have released a program were your profile is now directly linked to your email
address. This programme is known as ’Customer Match’, the program allows an advertiser’s
“brand to be right there, with the right message, at the right moment your customer is
most receptive”. https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6379332?hl=en-GB
So to summarise if you’ve previously asked a travel site to send information to your Gmail,
that site can sign up for ‘Customer Match’, Then when you’re watching a YouTube video on
or linked to traveling, YouTube “can show you ads that inspire you to plan their next trip.”
Rick Jackson, CEO of American privacy technology firm, Privada Inc., stats that “There are a lot more
people tracking you than you think”. “The data world is a very powerful and lucrative marketplace with
a lot of players involved.” For evidence, he points to a Washington Post story that revealed that 11
major pharmaceutical companies - including Pfizer Inc., SmithKline Beecham PLC, Glaxo Wellcome PLC -
had formed an alliance and were tracking every click consumers made across their sites, then comparing
notes. And consumers were never told.
“Everybody points to advertising. That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Jackson said. “We as consumers
don’t have any knowledge of what really goes on out there.”
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3078835/t/online-privacy-fears-are-real/#.WAjf4vkrL7A
A July 2016 survey of U.S. online users about online harassment through the invasion of privacy has
revealed that five percent of internet users in the United States had harm caused to them through the
exposure of sensitive information.
https://www.statista.com/topics/2476/online-privacy/
323.1 million (2016) – 5% = 16,155,000 people
It’s not all that bad, is it?
Not all companies have this pompous attitude
towards mining your information, despite all of
these big scary words Google appear to be on of the
‘Good Guys’. Google seem to have a genuine
interest in improving your online experience, the
data they collect enables you to fill out forms
quicker, remember places on Google Maps when
even you can’t, finds videos you want to watch and
auto completes your searches based on your existing
interests.
They have a full web page dedicated to showing you
exactly what happens with the data they collect and
how it benefits your journey online.
https://privacy.google.com/intl/en-GB/your-
data.html
Methodology
For my data collection I devised 3 documents and
brief animated short video as my artefact. The
documents are purposely designed to be over
personal and conspicuous looking in order to
illustrate to the participants the vast amounts of
information they realise on a daily basis and its
happening right in front of them. The first
questionnaire indicates that all fields indicated red
are compulsory* and must be filled out, however
the questions that are not indicated red are almost
identical to the compulsory questions just either
worded differently or gathering the same
information just in a different way. This was to
highlight the illusion of choice companies provide
under the guise of being helpful.
The second document is again
an over exaggerated
interpretation on the ‘Terms
and Conditions’ model, I took
the general T’s & C’s of the
Exchange of Data Act from
https://www.exchange-
data.com/terms-and-
conditions.php, compressed it
down to a 5 point font and
removed all separators within
the text I placed it in a text box
to make it seem longer and
even more harder to read I then
at the end wrote ‘I Agree to
these terms and conditions’ and
gave the options Agree /
disagree leaning more towards
the ‘Agree’ option with it
underlines and capitalised. With
this I had the understanding
that no one would read any of
this page and just tick agree
and move on to the next page.
The final document had 5 questions
were participants could answer
‘Yes’, ‘Sometimes’ or ‘No’.
I first asked the participants I am
aware of internet Cookies and what
they do, this allowed me to initially
get a better scope of their
understanding of the data collection
and its uses.
Then I asked, I am okay with my
personal information being sold to
advertisers, a perhaps more straight
forward point but in its simplest
form what is happening to a large
percentage of our data.
I scan/read Terms and condition was
the third question, and this again
gave me a better understanding of
the participant.
I will accept cookies if it means
getting onto a website. I felt this was
a really important question to ask as
a vast majority of online users do
this, they have got into the habit of
not reading anything messages
prompted to them and just hitting
allow and not thinking of any
implications that will follow.
And finally, Do personally catered
adverts and applications make your
life easier? This was my main field of
inquiry a mist of these cruxes of big
bad corporations mining and
auctioning your data but what about
the good that comes out of this?
For my artefact I have created a short
animated video that is the critique of the
modern data collection model. I began the
designing of the artefact by sketching out some
ideas on paper and then bringing those ideas
into Adobe Illustrator were I created a desk
using basic shapes and a Mac computer screen I
chose this form of media as it is easy to
manipulate and more effective in the right
setting. Here are come of my concept ideas
Once I had my designs finalized
I brought the files in Adobe
After Effects, added in a
camera and then applied a
glitch effect, a Matrix styled
font and a red blinking light at
the top of the screen to create
the visual troupes of ‘Hacking’,
‘Surveillance’ and ‘Artificial
Intelligence’. I created a shape
mask, set key frames and
added in a typing sound effect
to manipulate the video to
appear as if the screen was
typing in real time and
recorded voice notes through a
text to voice generator to build
on the AI interface style.
To add to the suspense, gradually I removed all the text
layers to reveal only the word ‘You’ while adding in a white
noise bleep and another glitch effect over the screen, this
was purposely made to be personal and unsettling to the
viewer and highlight what a very large percentage of data
collection is used for. I then jumped to a screen were there
was an outline of a human surrounded by what was
represented as code and the red light would switch on
again, again building into the idea that you are being
monitored every day it may not be visually but very much so
electronically.
Results
To begin I had 10 participants, ranging in age from 19 to 52, 3 were female and 7 male.
I sat every participant down individually and gave them the Mock Questionnaire, Terms and
Conditions and a pen and didn’t say anything. After 10 minutes I took the sheets from them
and played my Artefact, once the video was over I handed them back the same two forms
only blank and to be filled in again.
One participant for example, a 30+, female filled in every question the first time around
and immediately ticked the ‘Agree’ box on the Terms and Conditions. Then after watching
the video, when handed the same blank sheet she only filled in her age, sex, gave 2 fake
contact numbers, her favourite tv show and her hobby and still agreed with the Terms and
Conditions yet did not attempt to read them the second time.
The interesting thing about these was that even though the participant left certain fields
empty, the sections that were filled in despite seeming obviously meaningless to her, that
information was still classed as sellable data and would allow companies to still cater
personal adverts to people of similar age and sex that watched ‘The Walking Dead’ and or
enjoyed running.
80%
20%
I AM AWARE OF INTERNET COOKIES AND WHAT THEY DO
Yes No
2 participants were
unaware or had
never knowingly
encountered Cookies
before, however the
same two
participants were
not frequent
internet users and
over the age of 30
20%
40%
40%
I AM OKAY WITH MY PERSONAL INFORMATION BEING SOLD TO ADVERTISERS
Yes Sometimes No
This was
understandably a
mixed response, 40%
yes 40% no and 20%
sometimes. The 40%
leaning against their
information being
sold were again
older, all 4 were
between 24-30 & 30+
20%
80%
I SCAN/READ TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
Sometimes No
Again an expected
response although
20% of participants
said they sometimes
scan through Terms
and Conditions,
however not one of
the 10 participants
read more than 3
lines of my
fabricated Terms and
Conditions before
quickly ticking
‘Agree’
strengthening my
argument
80%
20%
I WILL ACCEPT COOKIES IF IT MEANS GETTING ONTO A WEBSITE.
Yes Sometimes
Almost all of the
participants agreed
that they would just
click ‘Agree’ to get
onto a site, this is an
alarming response
and highlights that
people need to be
educated more
about internet
cookies and the
collection of their
data.
30%
60%
10%
DO PERSONALLY CATERED ADVERTS AND APPLICATIONS MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER?
Yes Sometimes No
I think this was an
overall positive
response, 2 of the 3
users that agreed
that personalised
adverts made their
lives easier were
frequent online
shoppers and the
data collection
module made their
online experience
more enjoyable
Conclusion
In conclusion it can be stated that within my demographic audience an alarming
amount of participants were unaware of the amounts of data they release each
day that is then used by companies to tailor personal ads directly to their Gmail
and Facebook accounts however that being said despite the fears and
misconceptions of data collection it does enhance a users online experience
I feel this research topic has addressed the awareness of data collection, or lack
there of, however it think it cannot be ignored that people should be educated
more in what data is being collected from them and what its being used for, but
whether that is up to the companies to more concise in the information they give
out about data collection or whether the users should engage themselves more
with what they do online remains to be said.
https://vimeo.com/244473560
Bibliography
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-28/facebook-ads-are-all-
knowing-unblockable-and-in-everyone-s-phone
https://www.exchange-data.com/terms-and-conditions.php
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3078835/t/online-privacy-fears-are-
real/#.WAjf4vkrL7A
https://privacy.google.com/intl/en-GB/your-data.html
https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-
apple-facebook-microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html
https://www.statista.com/topics/2476/online-privacy/
https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6379332?hl=en-GB

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The price of free

  • 1. THE COST OF ‘FREE’ “A critique of the modern data collection model and the surveillance systems used by corporate entities to monitor our digital selves”
  • 2. Introduction The problem – The price of free. For all of the free services major technology companies provide for us, at what cost do they come? Many people are oblivious to what happens to their information online. The context – it has only been in recent years that huge companies have had to release public statements addressing what exactly they do with the enormous amounts of data the collect from us on a daily basis, and this research topic was used to investigate that The method - I created a short animation and mock questionnaire to raise awareness and the debate on what exactly are the costs of a free service? The video is an over exaggerated interpretation on the critique the modern data collection model and the surveillance of our digital lives. The outcomes – The outcomes of this research topic will provide a deeper insight into data collection and an understanding of how aware users are of the information they are giving away and what exactly happens to it. This study will highlight if any, the miss conceptions and cruxes of internet cookies and personally tailored online advertising in a hope to help the public understand how it work as well as assisting advertising outlets and digital marketers by educating the user.
  • 4. The price of free, free email, free connecting with friends, free search all this must come at some cost, you could argue that companies are going to extreme lengths to mine your data. Look at Facebook and Google two of the biggest grossing companies in the world. Facebook trackers are just about everywhere on the Internet. But because most of Facebook’s 1.49 billion users routinely access the service through an app, the ads cannot be hidden even using one of the many blocker tools now topping the download charts on Apple’s App Store.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-28/facebook-ads- are-all-knowing-unblockable-and-in-everyone-s-phone “We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others. This can include information in or about the content you provide, such as the location of a photo or the date a file was created. We also collect information about how you use our Services, such as the types of content you view or engage with or the frequency and duration of your activities.” https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/ You do have the option delete your account, but Facebook actually reserves the right to keep information and what others have shared about you. Because to Facebook, that information isn’t yours.
  • 5. Mark Hachman the Senior Editor at PCWorld states that Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and its other services rank among the leaders in search optimisation. But all that “free” adds up to a huge amount of your personal information being traded away to create personalized, targeted ad experiences. https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook- microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html Google have released a program were your profile is now directly linked to your email address. This programme is known as ’Customer Match’, the program allows an advertiser’s “brand to be right there, with the right message, at the right moment your customer is most receptive”. https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6379332?hl=en-GB So to summarise if you’ve previously asked a travel site to send information to your Gmail, that site can sign up for ‘Customer Match’, Then when you’re watching a YouTube video on or linked to traveling, YouTube “can show you ads that inspire you to plan their next trip.”
  • 6. Rick Jackson, CEO of American privacy technology firm, Privada Inc., stats that “There are a lot more people tracking you than you think”. “The data world is a very powerful and lucrative marketplace with a lot of players involved.” For evidence, he points to a Washington Post story that revealed that 11 major pharmaceutical companies - including Pfizer Inc., SmithKline Beecham PLC, Glaxo Wellcome PLC - had formed an alliance and were tracking every click consumers made across their sites, then comparing notes. And consumers were never told. “Everybody points to advertising. That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Jackson said. “We as consumers don’t have any knowledge of what really goes on out there.” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3078835/t/online-privacy-fears-are-real/#.WAjf4vkrL7A A July 2016 survey of U.S. online users about online harassment through the invasion of privacy has revealed that five percent of internet users in the United States had harm caused to them through the exposure of sensitive information. https://www.statista.com/topics/2476/online-privacy/ 323.1 million (2016) – 5% = 16,155,000 people
  • 7. It’s not all that bad, is it? Not all companies have this pompous attitude towards mining your information, despite all of these big scary words Google appear to be on of the ‘Good Guys’. Google seem to have a genuine interest in improving your online experience, the data they collect enables you to fill out forms quicker, remember places on Google Maps when even you can’t, finds videos you want to watch and auto completes your searches based on your existing interests. They have a full web page dedicated to showing you exactly what happens with the data they collect and how it benefits your journey online. https://privacy.google.com/intl/en-GB/your- data.html
  • 9.
  • 10. For my data collection I devised 3 documents and brief animated short video as my artefact. The documents are purposely designed to be over personal and conspicuous looking in order to illustrate to the participants the vast amounts of information they realise on a daily basis and its happening right in front of them. The first questionnaire indicates that all fields indicated red are compulsory* and must be filled out, however the questions that are not indicated red are almost identical to the compulsory questions just either worded differently or gathering the same information just in a different way. This was to highlight the illusion of choice companies provide under the guise of being helpful.
  • 11. The second document is again an over exaggerated interpretation on the ‘Terms and Conditions’ model, I took the general T’s & C’s of the Exchange of Data Act from https://www.exchange- data.com/terms-and- conditions.php, compressed it down to a 5 point font and removed all separators within the text I placed it in a text box to make it seem longer and even more harder to read I then at the end wrote ‘I Agree to these terms and conditions’ and gave the options Agree / disagree leaning more towards the ‘Agree’ option with it underlines and capitalised. With this I had the understanding that no one would read any of this page and just tick agree and move on to the next page.
  • 12. The final document had 5 questions were participants could answer ‘Yes’, ‘Sometimes’ or ‘No’. I first asked the participants I am aware of internet Cookies and what they do, this allowed me to initially get a better scope of their understanding of the data collection and its uses. Then I asked, I am okay with my personal information being sold to advertisers, a perhaps more straight forward point but in its simplest form what is happening to a large percentage of our data. I scan/read Terms and condition was the third question, and this again gave me a better understanding of the participant. I will accept cookies if it means getting onto a website. I felt this was a really important question to ask as a vast majority of online users do this, they have got into the habit of not reading anything messages prompted to them and just hitting allow and not thinking of any implications that will follow. And finally, Do personally catered adverts and applications make your life easier? This was my main field of inquiry a mist of these cruxes of big bad corporations mining and auctioning your data but what about the good that comes out of this?
  • 13. For my artefact I have created a short animated video that is the critique of the modern data collection model. I began the designing of the artefact by sketching out some ideas on paper and then bringing those ideas into Adobe Illustrator were I created a desk using basic shapes and a Mac computer screen I chose this form of media as it is easy to manipulate and more effective in the right setting. Here are come of my concept ideas
  • 14. Once I had my designs finalized I brought the files in Adobe After Effects, added in a camera and then applied a glitch effect, a Matrix styled font and a red blinking light at the top of the screen to create the visual troupes of ‘Hacking’, ‘Surveillance’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’. I created a shape mask, set key frames and added in a typing sound effect to manipulate the video to appear as if the screen was typing in real time and recorded voice notes through a text to voice generator to build on the AI interface style.
  • 15. To add to the suspense, gradually I removed all the text layers to reveal only the word ‘You’ while adding in a white noise bleep and another glitch effect over the screen, this was purposely made to be personal and unsettling to the viewer and highlight what a very large percentage of data collection is used for. I then jumped to a screen were there was an outline of a human surrounded by what was represented as code and the red light would switch on again, again building into the idea that you are being monitored every day it may not be visually but very much so electronically.
  • 17. To begin I had 10 participants, ranging in age from 19 to 52, 3 were female and 7 male. I sat every participant down individually and gave them the Mock Questionnaire, Terms and Conditions and a pen and didn’t say anything. After 10 minutes I took the sheets from them and played my Artefact, once the video was over I handed them back the same two forms only blank and to be filled in again. One participant for example, a 30+, female filled in every question the first time around and immediately ticked the ‘Agree’ box on the Terms and Conditions. Then after watching the video, when handed the same blank sheet she only filled in her age, sex, gave 2 fake contact numbers, her favourite tv show and her hobby and still agreed with the Terms and Conditions yet did not attempt to read them the second time. The interesting thing about these was that even though the participant left certain fields empty, the sections that were filled in despite seeming obviously meaningless to her, that information was still classed as sellable data and would allow companies to still cater personal adverts to people of similar age and sex that watched ‘The Walking Dead’ and or enjoyed running.
  • 18. 80% 20% I AM AWARE OF INTERNET COOKIES AND WHAT THEY DO Yes No 2 participants were unaware or had never knowingly encountered Cookies before, however the same two participants were not frequent internet users and over the age of 30
  • 19. 20% 40% 40% I AM OKAY WITH MY PERSONAL INFORMATION BEING SOLD TO ADVERTISERS Yes Sometimes No This was understandably a mixed response, 40% yes 40% no and 20% sometimes. The 40% leaning against their information being sold were again older, all 4 were between 24-30 & 30+
  • 20. 20% 80% I SCAN/READ TERMS AND CONDITIONS. Sometimes No Again an expected response although 20% of participants said they sometimes scan through Terms and Conditions, however not one of the 10 participants read more than 3 lines of my fabricated Terms and Conditions before quickly ticking ‘Agree’ strengthening my argument
  • 21. 80% 20% I WILL ACCEPT COOKIES IF IT MEANS GETTING ONTO A WEBSITE. Yes Sometimes Almost all of the participants agreed that they would just click ‘Agree’ to get onto a site, this is an alarming response and highlights that people need to be educated more about internet cookies and the collection of their data.
  • 22. 30% 60% 10% DO PERSONALLY CATERED ADVERTS AND APPLICATIONS MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER? Yes Sometimes No I think this was an overall positive response, 2 of the 3 users that agreed that personalised adverts made their lives easier were frequent online shoppers and the data collection module made their online experience more enjoyable
  • 23. Conclusion In conclusion it can be stated that within my demographic audience an alarming amount of participants were unaware of the amounts of data they release each day that is then used by companies to tailor personal ads directly to their Gmail and Facebook accounts however that being said despite the fears and misconceptions of data collection it does enhance a users online experience I feel this research topic has addressed the awareness of data collection, or lack there of, however it think it cannot be ignored that people should be educated more in what data is being collected from them and what its being used for, but whether that is up to the companies to more concise in the information they give out about data collection or whether the users should engage themselves more with what they do online remains to be said. https://vimeo.com/244473560