Data trails were something that I was aware of before this course. However, after listening to and reading the course content for this week, I became more aware of and anxious about the concept. Data trails are also known as “digital breadcrumbs” (Pod Academy, 2016). In regards to the definition, a “digital trail is a trace you leave behind you… sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally when you use a mobile phone; but also when you use a computer, or when you use really any kind of technology that has a chip in it” (Pod Academy, 2016, 03:00). The unintentional portion of this definition freaked me out at first thought, as I became aware of the fact that many times, we are unaware of the data trail we are leaving behind.
On my blog, I use MonsterInsights to keep track of my analytics. Specifically, I am able to see how many people have been viewing and visiting my blog, on which dates and countries they are doing so, as well as the average duration that they are staying on my site. I can also see the percentage of new to returning users, and which devices people are visiting from. When I first set this up, I was shocked to see these results! I truly didn’t think that many people would be seeing my content, let alone people from outside Canada and in the United States, Germany, and China. I recognize that these could be bots, however it is cool to think about! Initially, I wasn’t sure what my analytics would provide for me. However, after my own exploration and after listening to the “Digital Breadcrumbs” (2016) podcast, I put the pieces together. Data is collected from the visitors of my site and is presented to me. This, in a more impactful way, is also what occurs on social media.
Recently, I watched a new documentary on Netflix called “The Social Dilemma”, which was a very interesting film about the dangers of social media. From this movie, one of the many things I learned was that social media platforms collect data regarding how long you look at a specific photo/video for. In a way, we each have a personal profile of information that is gathered for algorithm purposes. Although it makes sense, I was unaware of the extent to which our information is collected. However, upon reflection, I have come to realize that I constantly receive notifications on my phone from social media platforms, when I haven’t visited for a while. They know that I am not online and they want to suck me back in.
My personal opinion on data trails is that they make me a little bit uneasy. It is a weird thought to think about the fact you are essentially always being watched online. I have seen how this plays out when I have looked something up on google and then suddenly see an advertisement appear on my social media feed about the exact brand/product. Sometimes things appear that I have only talked about, and haven’t yet looked up, which always frightens me. As Norman (2015) stated, “I am not averse to providing personal information, but I like to have the choice” (para. 2), and I couldn’t agree more. Therefore, I have tried to minimize my data trail mostly in regards to location services. Like the interviewed people in the “Digital Breadcrumbs” (2016) podcast, I have also tried to restrict location services on my phone, especially in regards to certain apps. However, I do understand that my efforts may be pointless as “…our lives continue in the Digital world and leave digital breadcrumbs on the way” (Pod Academy, 2016, 13:12).
I recognize that analytics and data trails are necessary to a certain degree. Data collection is useful for companies and creators, in order for them to expand their reach and eventually make more money. However, it is also important to respect people’s privacy. With the analytics collected on my blog, I would say that readers privacy is somewhat protected. While location is identified, it is only regarding the country that the reader is in. This data is beneficial to me as the domain holder, and also for my readers who still have their identities protected. However, I know this is not the case with all sites. Personally, I will continue using the analytics add-on for my blog, as it gives me an idea of my audience. I also recognize that data collection is ultimately a necessarily thing, especially in our technology-centred society.
Norman, Suzanne. 2015 “Trying not to drop breadcrumbs in Amazon’s store.” http://publishing.sfu.ca/2016/03/breadcrumbs-of-data/
Pod Academy. 2016. “Digital breadcrumbs: The data trail we leave behind us.” http://podacademy.org/podcasts/digital-breadcrumbs-our-data-trail/
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