Why I’m not worried about the government, marketers, or any other party tracking me through social networks

I know, the title is a mouthful (forgive me)!

I have a pretty good idea of how much information can be pulled on people. It comes with working on the media side of advertising. Whenever I recommend spending money to a client, I’d better have the research to back up my recommendation. So along with planning, I spend a decent amount of time pulling and analyzing the research. Here’s an example of something I pulled out of Simmons this morning:

Do your eyes kind of hurt looking at it? Because mine do. And trust me, it doesn’t come out in a pretty format like that. This is the “readable” version of the data. No wonder Ultimate is giving me headaches, after I spend all day looking at this! In case you’re wondering, that’s about 5,000 cells worth of data.

It’s too much. Even if you know what the numbers mean and how to analyze them, it’s still too much. Now I can use excel to search for numbers that may be statistically relevant, but even then I may not find what I’m looking for. A line that’s relevant based on the Index, may have an unstable base.

What I’m trying to get at is that unless I know exactly what I’m looking for finding it is hard and takes time. Since I wouldn’t be doing the research if I knew exactly what I was looking for, the best I can do is narrow the parameters and hope I find statistical relevance before I go blind.

The more data you have, the harder it is and longer it takes to find what you’re looking for. See where I’m going with this?

I have a facebook profile. I also have a twitter and a linkedin. I had a Google+ for awhile. I deleted it recently, but I’m sure that information is still stored somewhere. I’m not worried.

I have an Amazon account and a PayPal. I listen to Pandora obsessively at work. I had a Hulu account at one time. I still have a Netflix account.

I pay most of my bills online.

Most of these accounts are linked to the same email and the same user name. Which is actually what we’re taught to do in college: build a consistent online presence.

If someone really wanted to find out about me, and had the ability to hack my accounts, they could get a pretty good idea of exactly who Bridget is without ever having to meet me.

But why would they want to? Statistically, I’m about as average as a social media user gets. Female 18-25 who uses multiple touch points to reach her audiences, listens to Sarah Bareilles on Pandora, and checks her facebook 5-10 times a day. *yawn*

However, let’s forget about my social profile for a second, and assume the government is tracking people. Lets also get rid of the hypothesis that it’s someone in specific they want. If they know to look for one person in specific, online or not online really isn’t going to matter. Instead, let’s assume they’re tracking a profile. For example, underage drinking.

The government has decided they are going to crack down on underage drinking, and they are going to find offenders by tracking status updates, tweets and photos from minors about drinking.

How are they going to go about it? Seriously. Think about it for a second. If you were the government, how would you even begin?

Facebook has 800 million+ active users, with 50% of those people logging on each day, according to their own statistic page. Quantcast.com estimates that the site had 9,545,321,500 visits in October 2011. That’s 318,177,383 views per day.

Quantcast also reports 26% of those users being underage.  The only age group with higher usage is (surprise!) 18-34.

Let’s break down it down a little further. The government isn’t just profiling minors, they’re profiling minors who are breaking the law. That means pulling profiles isn’t enough. They have to pull in more detail: status updates and photos.

750 million pictures were uploaded over New Years weekend in 2011. In tracking one average 20 minute segment Mashable reports 1,323,000 pictures tagged, 2,716,000 photos uploaded, and 1,851,000 status updated. (Infograph – Are We Too Obsessed with Facebook)

And in case you’re wondering, about 25% of users are inside the US. (Also courtesy of a Mashable Infograph)

I could keep throwing information at you, but you probably get the point.

If I were the government tracking underage drinking, first I would filter based on location and then age, which would give me about 52,000,000 profiles to search through. Just getting those profiles would be the first problem though. Can you even imagine the time and computing power it would take to sort out 25% of 800 million?

And even then, you have to filter the pictures and the posts.

So am I worried about the government or anyone else tracking or profiling me through my social sites? No, not really. The truth is that I’m just another face in a crowd that is growing every day, and so are you.



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