Can you really opt out of Big Data?

Janet Vertesi, assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, had heard many people apologize for commercial online surveillance by saying that people who didn't want to give their data away should just not give their data away -- they should opt out. So when she got pregnant, she and her husband decided to keep the fact secret from marketing companies (but not their friends and family). She quickly discovered that this was nearly impossible, even while she used Tor, ad blockers, and cash-purchased Amazon cards that paid for baby-stuff shipped to anonymous PO boxes.

We ordered everything baby-related on Tor. I’ve used a lot of browser plugins and software on my career. A lot of people just asked if I downloaded an ad blocker. But I wasn’t worried about the ads; I was worried about the data collection that fuels the advertising. If I had an ad blocker, I wouldn’t be able to see what the internet knew about me. So we used a traceless browser for baby things. Everything else, I did on my normal browser. We got everything in cash that we could. We’d do research online, using Tor, and then go out and buy things in cash in person. For some purchases online, we made through Amazon, and we set up an Amazon account from a private email account and had it deliver to a local locker in Manhattan, so it wasn’t associated with our address. We stocked it with Amazon gift cards that we bought with cash. So we did those kinds of things to draw a distinction between our online lives and our offline lives.

Meet The Woman Who Did Everything In Her Power To Hide Her Pregnancy From Big Data [Jessica Goldstein/Think Progress]

(Thanks, Alan!)

(Image: pregnant woman, Teza Harinaivo Ramiandrisoa, CC-BY-SA)