Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Metadata, Marketers, and Social Media

        It should be no secret to any of us that companies want to get as much information about us as possible. Usually the data that they are after is thought of as our traditional idea of what data is, including our name, location, gender, and age. With the widespread use of the internet, this conventional idea of data has expanded to include, for example, our online purchasing habits, as well as our search habits, by way of internet cookies and other technologies. Marketers use this data to better target the people who are most likely to purchase the product or service. However, data like this is not the only form of data that a company can use to expose who you are. Metadata, which effectively is “data about data” (Setting the Stage), as described by Anne Gilliland, is increasingly being used to take anonymous information that many companies keep about their customers and cross-reference it with other data sources, such as social media posts, to determine exactly who each piece of anonymous data belongs to.

        The use of metadata was not originally conceived with marketing purposes in mind. Rather, it was used in libraries, to create indexes and abstracts, and museums. Another application of metadata, resource discovery, can be closely related to what marketers use metadata for today. The way marketers use metadata to determine who the nameless profile is in a database is similar to how libraries used metadata to create groups of work based on content and metadata relating to the work. In the article by Robert Lee Hotz, this process is better described. After starting with said nameless profile in a database, this activity can be cross referenced with data from social networking sites. This data from social networking sites contains metadata of its own, time stamps, locations, and people tagged in the photo or status, that can be then compared to the anonymous data to create a match.

        The question is, however, does this use of data to gauge everything from buying habits, to who you are with, and where, invade the buyers privacy? For better or worst we live in a world of transparent personal data, in part because of our widespread adoption of the internet, and particularly social media. To touch on an interesting part of this concern for privacy, I have found that people are often concerned with marketers having this data, but never think twice about the people seeing the same posts on these social media sites.

        So to address the privacy concern, I want to pose a question. Is there a difference between your 250+ friends on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, having this information about you, and the marketers who want to push products to you? What about when you consider that some of your “friends” or followers on these sites you may not actually know personally? My opinion on the subject is that if a person is concerned about marketers having this data, perhaps they should examine exactly what they are posting on these social media sites in the first place, and determine if they are posting too much.

Kyle C.


Gilliland, Anne. “Setting the Stage”. Introduction to Metadata. retrieved from http://www.getty.edu/research/publications/electronic_publications/intrometadata/setting.html

Hotz, Robert Lee. “Metadata Can Expose Person’s Identity Even Without Name”. The Wall Street Journal. January 29, 2015. retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/metadata-can-expose-persons-identity-even-when-name-isnt-1422558349

4 Comments

  1. In regards to marketers having access to a wealth of data to better advertise to the consumer, my question has always been why they don’t make more accessible product instead of trying to figure out better and better ways to sell me something I wouldn’t want unless they come up with a way to make my brain through their advertising methods want it. Why not base their time and money in the merit of the product rather than in the sale of something that consumers don’t truly want? My friends on Facebook will see what it is I post because they acknowledge my existence as an individual human being. A marketer wants to figure out how to better drain my wallet after collectively adding me to a pool of people. I think the generalization, along with marketers doing a poor job of actually knowing who their target audience is, for example women and computers, is what fundamentally irks me about them having my information.

  2. I totally agree with how you point out that internet users feel a certain way about their info being accessible to marketers and companies but do not think twice about it being accessed by their social media friends; some of whom they do not even know personally. I think we tend to overlook the lack of privacy we actually get on the internet. Marketers gain tons of data on internet users daily and use it to boost sales which does bother me in a way. I do not think they should have access to users data simply because I do get annoyed with the advertisements and pop ups promoting their products.

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