In closing this book, Jill Walker Rettberg brought up an excellent point about data tracking and surveillance that I hadn’t considered before. The earlier stages of this book were about ways that we track and represent ourselves. However, as our society has become more and more digital, we are being tracked by others as well.
Key example: after I got engaged my Facebook page became an advertising
frenzy for wedding dresses, engagement rings, and honeymoon retreats. Once I was married, I was continuously barraged by advertisements about babies. Every ad was informing me of baby registry services and online shopping for maternity clothes. The internet age has made it easy to watch our life go by and advertise to us based on what milestone we’ve most recently reached.
I’ll be completely honest and say that I have never really cared about my security when it comes to tracking. If anything, I’m glad that the advertisements I’m seeing are somewhat related to my life and not completely useless to me. I always thought “at least my newsfeed reflects my interests and tries to sell me things I might actually need or enjoy”. I mean, wouldn’t you rather see an advertisement for a honeymoon retreat when you’re newly engaged than an ad for a drug to deal with male impotence? This new form of advertisement has effectively ended random spamming of email addresses and filtered what we see to what we might want to see.
There are some out there that are openly opposed to this type of tracking. Yet, I’ve never seen a problem with it.
This book made me think about this in a new light. One example she gave was that we now have the technology to lay a newborn baby on a mat that will track its breathing, heart rate, and temperature. This mat will help doctors track a baby’s health when necessary. This type of technology is a huge step forward for medicine. However, these mats are also being marketed commercially to families that don’t need this constant tracking. Their babies are healthy and if anything the families are adding a new layer of data analysis and stress to their lives that they don’t need.
Here’s where Rettberg drove the point home. Imagine that down the line, all babies are given these pads when they’re born. All parents put the babies to sleep on them. Imagine that healthcare providers arrive at the house of new parents to inform them that they aren’t parenting correctly because of the data from this mat.
The technology is all here to make this invasive type of constant surveillance an actual reality. And on top of that, the United States has very few laws or boundaries in place to protect the information that’s being tracked about us.
We are reaching the point as a society that we need to start drawing lines. What are we willing to have tracked? And more importantly, who should have access to that information? Our data creates a “double image” of ourselves. We can see our lives through our data, as can anyone else who has access to it. We need to start considering with whom that power should lie.