If You Think You’re Anonymous Online, Think Again

After Tuesday’s class, I decided to listen to a recent airing of a Fresh Air interview with Julia Angwin, a journalist who recently penned a book called “Dragnet Nation”.  While writing the book, Angwin attempted to learn about the amount of data that already existed about herself and attempted to control future data that went out.

Angwin started by contacting Google, and was able to collect her search history since 2006.  “It turns out I had been doing about 26,000 Google searches a month … and I was amazed at how revealing they were” she said.  Angwin also contacted many data aggregators, such as Nielson, and a handful out of 26 were willing to send her the data they had on her.

As a mother of two and a journalist, Angwin didn’t want to go off the grid for her experiment of controlling the data that was collected about her – so she did the best she could to live a more private life.  She purchased burner phones, brought a personal WiFi attachment with her wherever she went, created false identities, scrambled her calls and texts, blocked her location on her phone, purchased a protective wallet that hid her credit card data and used a search engine that did not store her search data (she used DuckDuckGo which is actually a local company).  And the results?

“I would say I probably protected myself at most 50 percent of what is possible. And that’s because I wasn’t willing to live in a cage, in a tin shed in the woods, because I wanted to live in the modern world and there’s a price you pay for living in the modern world. And some of that has to do with — you have to share your data.”

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