Daily Media Use and Privacy

This week I’m taking another look at my media usage… but with a twist. What type of data is collected on the sites and apps I use? Let’s find out and see what we can learn.

6:00 a.m.: News and social media notifications. As always, the first thing I do in the morning is check for messages on social media and push notifications from the Associated Press and AZCentral. When I signed up on for the AP app my sophomore year of college, I know I had to create a profile and choose my particular news interests. At the very least, the AP has my name, access to my notifications and the knowledge that I’m interested in news from the southwest. I use my dad’s subscription to AZCentral, so I’m not sure how much data they have on my interests versus his. I don’t see any notifications that grab my attention, so I put my alarm on snooze for a while longer.

6:40 a.m.: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Before I officially get up for the day, I check in on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Just the other day, I pulled my Facebook data file from Meta (here’s how to do it) after reading about it in my digital media class. Honestly, I was freaked out about by the depth of the information Meta had about me on file. They had hundreds of interests catalogued based on articles I had read on the platform, and I rarely ever post on Facebook!

Needless to say, I’ve been staying off of Facebook as much as I can. I log onto the platform briefly, and then I move on to Instagram. I haven’t pulled my Instagram file yet, but I’m sure it has much of the same information (name, date of birth, location, interests, etc.) about me. Also, I watch an Instagram story from Lego, a brand that I follow. Because I watch their stories, I sometimes see Lego ads on other sites.

I spend most of my time this morning on Twitter. I click on a Tweet from the APStylebook as I remember that mine could be outdated. When I click the link, Twitter probably makes a note that I’m in the market for a stylebook. I wonder if I’ll be seeing more ads for it soon.

7:15 a.m.: Safari for toaster oven manual- I spend ten minutes waiting by my toaster oven as it does nothing to toast my bread. Even though I turn on the timer and set my oven temperature, my bread remains uncooked. I go to Safari to find the toaster oven instruction manual online in case I did something wrong. I do know that Safari keeps track of the websites users visit most frequently, so I’m sure Safari knows I own a toaster oven (this is my second time searching for the instructions online). In the future, they may send me more ads from the brand of toaster oven I have. More pressing, though, is the true reason my toaster oven isn’t working– I forgot to plug it in.

7:55 a.m.: FM Radio, 96.9- On my way to class, I tune in to the radio station my car is permanently stuck on. Today’s greatest hits include “Levitating” by Dua Lipa and “Sunroof” by Nicky Youre and Dazy. Since I don’t use an app to listen to music when I’m in the car, I’m fairly confident that I’m not giving any company information about myself when I tune in. Besides, my car is more than 10 years old, and it is not new enough to have any kind of transmitting technology.

8:20 a.m.: Slack notification- I get to class early, and the first thing I see when I sit down is a Slack notification from one of my supervisors at my internship. I send her a quick clarification about my hours this week. To my knowledge, Slack collects IP addresses, keeps messages forever and has access to my name and email through my university. I haven’t taken the time to go through Slack’s privacy policy, but I’m confident any of my messages could be FOIA’d if there was a legitimate reason.

8:23 a.m.: Review Pocho- In one of my English classes, we are reading Pocho by José Antonio Villarreal. Typically, my professor gives us a written quiz at the beginning of class, so I refresh myself on the first 60 pages of the novel. Reading a physical book is one of the only times I feel like I’m consuming media that no one else knows about. The only way the Internet can figure out what I read is when I post it on my blog for my digital media class!

8:35 a.m: Research for class- With the time I have left before class, I start to get ahead on scholarly research for a paper I’m writing for another class. We’ve been looking into a Welsh text called The Mabinogi, and since the text is kind of obscure, I start my search on Safari. I find an article from MIT that was put together over 20 years ago. I’m not sure how sophisticated the cookies on this site are due to its age, but I try not click any links that may be infected with some kind of virus. Although it is a secure site (https://), I don’t want to take any chances.

10:35 a.m.: Research on feminist theory- After my first class, I head to the library and do some research on matricentric feminism for an upcoming paper. I go through Arizona State University’s library search to find a peer-reviewed article by Andrea O’Reilly, who wrote extensively on the topic of matricentric feminism. When I navigate to the library search site, I get a pop-up that tells me about the cookies ASU uses to track and log my search history. In their privacy policy, ASU discloses that they partner with third-party groups like Google Analytics to track what sites users visit. I’m already inundated with ASU advertisements, so I’m not sure if that information will change anything for me in the near future.

11:00 a.m.: Email- I come up for air from my feminist theory research to check my email. Only one message is in my inbox; my TA for one of my general studies classes posted a study session on our class website. I decide I don’t have time to watch it today, so I ignore the email. Gmail collects basic data about the emails I send such as the time, my IP address and approximate location. Although I’m uncomfortable with that, my entire academic life is run through Gmail. I feel like I don’t have too much of a choice but to continue using the email service.

11:09 a.m.: Discord- I get a message from a group of friends who are meeting up to study later today. I let them know I’m going to skip today’s study session because of my internship hours. Although I use Discord frequently, I don’t usually think of that company as one that collects data.

According to Discord’s privacy policy, the company collects information you give them (such as which servers you are a part of, your email, messages you send) and information from your device (like IP address, when and how often you use Discord). I make a point to keep my microphone permissions off on Discord as I don’t want anyone accidentally listening in on me, but I do keep my camera permissions on in case I need to send a photo.

1:20 p.m.: Instagram message- Yesterday, I told my sister that ASU’s geology club was having a rock and mineral sale. Today she messages me back with a gem request from my mother.

A Forbes article from 2020 mentions that messages on Instagram are not protected with end-to-end encryption. Although the lack of personal message security from Meta doesn’t surprise me in the least, I don’t like the idea that conversations I have with my closest family members could be easily accessed. Often, I use Instagram to communicate because it is easy, but possible security breaches make me reconsider.

1:43 p.m.: FM Radio- On my commute home, I tune into 96.9 once again. The afternoon’s mix includes “Tiny Dancer” from Elton John and Britney Spears. There’s something to be said for the lack of control a person has when listening to public radio. Sometimes it’s nice to just listen in to what someone else decides to put on.

1:55 p.m.: ASU Website- Just before I settle down to work on tasks for my internship, I check an ASU website for information about a graduate program I’m looking into. On ASU’s site, a pop-up tells me about cookies that are used to enhance the user experience (the same ones from earlier). At this point in my career, ASU probably has all sorts of information about me including my name, social security number, payment information, IP address, and so much more. The pop-up was just one more reminder of the information that they typically collect. As a student, I feel like I don’t have a choice but to continue using their sites.

2:00 p.m.: Internship website work- I start work on the Drupal website for my internship. I’m slightly apprehensive because I haven’t looked at a Drupal site since we had to change directions on a different site several months ago, but I figure it out fairly easily! For a CMS, Drupal is pretty secure because it is open-source and community based. For my internship, I had to sign in with my ASU credentials, so I know Drupal at least has access to the same information that ASU collects.

2:35-5:00 p.m.: Internship research on Safari- I’ve been doing extensive research on geolocation and podcasts for a project we are trying to start. I look at projects that are similar (no one has quite done what we’re trying to do) in scope, but I do get a little nervous about the security of the sites I’m looking at.

However, many of the sites I find are based in the UK. Because of the General Data Protection Regulation, I actually feel more comfortable on sites from the UK. Most of the time, those sites clearly state what data they collect. Typically, I reject all cookies except those that are necessary.

5:15-7:00 p.m.- The Mabinogi and Word- After my internship finishes for today, I dig into The Mabinogi, the book from one of my classes. I start writing the essay that is due the soonest, and I run into a few frustrating roadblocks.

7:05 p.m.: Email- I send a quick email to my professor about my paper. I’m hoping he replies sooner rather than later, but that remains to be seen.

7:37 p.m.: Instagram and Twitter- I finally get a chance to look through all the stories and memes my sister has been sending me about the Don’t Worry Darling fiasco involving Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine and Florence Pugh. I definitely will not be watching the film, but I think all of the Twitter discourse about Styles spitting on Pine is hysterical.

Because I’ve been consuming content related to Don’t Worry Darling for two days straight, it keeps showing up on my feeds, probably because Meta and Twitter collect data on my interests. The algorithm that aims to please brings me more amusing memes, and I feed into the cycle by clicking on them.

8:45 p.m.: YouTube- I start off my homework by doing some “listening work” for marching band. We’re doing a popular music show in a few weeks, so I listen to the relevant songs by Dua Lipa, Lil Nas X and Lizzo. Then, I let my YouTube autoplay as I shift gears to do more homework. I end up listening to some Elvis and Cyn, who I started listening to over the summer during my internship.

YouTube automatically played Elvis because I spent the last few weeks listening to him for my previous marching band show. The data YouTube collected from my previous searches informs what I see tonight.

8:50 p.m.- 10:30 p.m.: Canvas- I try to do some reading for my digital media literacy class and look through assignment guidelines for some of my other classes.

11:15 p.m.: Dracula Daily Substack– Things are heating up in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I get delivered in real time to my email via substack. After months of waiting, I think a certain character is heading straight toward their demise.

As far as I know, the only information I gave Substack when I signed up was my name and email. The owners of the Substack can probably tell if I open their emails (I open every single email, I’m an inbox=0 girl) as well as how long I stay and read.

A brief reflection: What disturbs me the most about my digital security as a media user is that I don’t know exactly what information companies like Meta, Google and many more are collecting about me. Of course, I have a decent level of understanding about the biometrics, behavior data, personal data and other types of data that is documented, but it’s hard to determine specifics.

As a media user, I tend to avoid posting or engaging on social media because I don’t want my preferences broadcasted to all of my followers (which I guess defeats the purpose of social media). However, just because I prefer lurking over posting does not mean my personal data, my interests, my biometrics, and my device data are not floating around the inter web. I visit hundreds of sites just to do my homework on a daily basis, and search engines keep track of that data.

Information like the type of toaster I have, what version of the Stylebook I might purchase, and what graduate programs I am considering can be turned into targeted ads that I can easily click on tomorrow. I know I see things daily that are informed by my previous online history (like the Elvis music that autoplayed), and I keep engaging. Even though I don’t post or like posts very often, clicking on a link to watch a video is enough to engage the social media algorithms.

I try to remember what privacy options I have turned on as well as what cookies I allow, but because I consume so much media on a daily basis, it is difficult to keep track. To even complete this blog post, I had to do extra research on some of the media companies I use to refresh my memory on who collects what data.

Going forward, I’m going to try to be just a bit more aware of the information gathered about me, and I encourage any media user to do the same.

As scary as the seemingly endless tracking can be, I’ll end on a humorous note. Because of all the research I did on privacy, I received a targeted ad from Google about privacy earlier today.

If that’s not irony, I’m not sure what is.

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