Introduction to Digital Humanities

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

Personal Liberties, Government Intervention, and Facebook

Robert Hotz’s Wall Street Journal article entitled “Metadata Can Expose Person’s Identity Even Without Name,” raises concerns about security risk in an age where a person’s identity can be found online. Through a simple Google search one person can do a background search on anyone. Information is published online, which is picked up by others and eventually shared in the cyber world. Take, for instance, data brokers. Data brokers buy and share large quantity of personal information. If I had a unique buying trend on Amazon, this information will be shared with a company (like Facebook) so other companies are able to advertise to me.

This trend also brings to mind bulk collection of personal data from government spy agencies. Government has the ability to act like data brokers in the sense that information is collected on an individual and potentially shared. Should the government be able to collect this information and share it? Honestly, in a post-9/11 age this questions seems difficult to answer. We are in a time and age where we want safety and security – but are we willing to give up our personal liberties?

Yes, the two comparisons are polar opposites but it does bring to mind the information we put on the web is out there for everyone’s use. Perhaps individuals like to receive Facebook ads on products they want to buy. On the other hand an individual may not mind his/her/ze personal liberties being taken away for the safety and security provided by their nation.

As for the “data about data” made available on the internet, author Anne Gilliland provides information on the content, context, and structure of an “object” – however, no set definition is given. An example she gives through her article (one that I can closely relate to) is libraries. I am currently on the Dean of the University Library Search Committee and one thing to take into consideration is the day and age we are in. Should we expand our libraries online presents with ebooks? How should we maintain the current structure of the library; meaning should we uphold the traditional library.

We are currently in a day and age in which we are defining metadata and the liabilities included with it. Information that is stored online through data brokers is open for everyone’s use. In addition, the new generation of libraries and what metadata can actually do remains a mystery since we are still defining its purpose.


  1. I thought your observation that anyone can find information about people from a simple Google search to be particularly acute. I can distinctly remember the time, in an online chat room, an out-of-area friend challenged me with a wager that I couldn’t know where he lived. With the challenge accepted, I was able to use public Facebook profiles, usernames, real estate listings, and search functions to track down his exact address within less than twenty or thirty minutes. People have little realization how much data is made available for access if you know where to look – even to people who aren’t tech experts or computer hackers.

    On a contrary note, though, I’ve had the opposite experience, too – looking for information on a person a decade older than me, for research purposes, has proved to be nearly impossible. It’s fascinating to compare the difference between only a decade ago and now. How do you think people in this generation and era are affected by the culture of digital data?

  2. I think you make decent points about how personal data are shared. A lot of electronic commerce stores and social websites have some data collections of personal information. When these e-commerce stores give people’s personal data to retailers, there will be a lot more ads and sales mails. I agree that some do not mind the Facebook ads because the sales ads could give people helpful information about any discounts on products they intend to buy.

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