April 28, 2014

On The Internet, Everyone Knows You're Pregnant

On a TMI panel Friday at Theorizing the Web in New York, Princeton assistant professor of sociology Janete Vertesi explained how she hid her pregnancy from Big Data. She banned social media discussion by her relatives and friends; paid for stuff with cash, got a separate Amazon account--which she only paid for with gift cards bought with cash--and used Tor to anonymize her visits to babycenter.com [and, one hopes, other expectant parent-oriented websites].

It is bonkers, but I can totally relate, even in my probable failure. One reason I haven't switched commenting on Daddy Types over to a login system is because I don't want to turn the entire site into a user information sponge for Facebook or whoever. I'm sure it doesn't work. We keep the kid and K2 off the site for the same [macro] reason.

Except that back in the day, "Big Data" only meant "your embarrassing Google search results." Our public mentions and namechecks are just the tip of the personal data iceberg Vertesi was steering around.

I guess this is how we conceive in the post-Duhigg world, after our culture has internalized stories of Target knowing a teenage girl is pregnant before her father does. And by we, I mean Ivy League sociologists, obviously. Everyone else is too busy signing up for diaper coupons and sponsored tweetups and stuff.

How One Woman Hid Her Pregnancy From Big Data [mashable via waxy]
Remember 2012? Buy Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit in paperback and relive the data magic [amazon]
TMI: Theorizing Big Data, Theorizing the Web 2014 [livestream]

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