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.
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