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Information Potluck by Bridget Bitzer

An individual’s computer usage is relatively private. People are hesitant to show others their search history, usually making the most use of their laptops in personal spaces such as the home or office. Ironically, these supposedly intimate actions are being recorded and analyzed by large corporations. Marketing companies use web cookies to track Internet users as they navigate from site to site. Information including an individual’s browsing and search history are stored and compiled into digital profiles that are used to infer things about a person. These algorithms aim to determine relationship status, if they are interested in a particular car, or even if they are getting married in the future. This information is then analyzed by advertisers so relevant ads target the consumer. You are able to view your personal ad preferences that Facebook generates for you based on the data it gathers. It gives viewers an upfront look of the information that has been gathered about them based on their Facebook profile and other actions online. The information is divided up into different topics of interest, which are curated into nice and neat categories. This can be viewed as a sample of who the Internet “thinks” you are as a person. It is a compiled set of facts it believes to be true about your personal life and interests. If the intent was to create a portrait of you to be based on your digital relationship, face books curated add preference section would be a good representation of what that resulting image would be.

During the “Information Potluck” event we talked about the relationship between our online personas, whom the Internet predicts us to be, and who we feel we are in “real” life. The potluck itself acted as a metaphor for how we share information on the Internet, creating a relevant setting in which this conversation could take place. Each individual brought their own food or beverage to the potluck, representative of the ones unique online fingerprint, which was then shared, as would online data, with the entire group. The event was held in a private space where you could find someone typically online and browsing freely. This also helped facilitate the free flow of ideas without presumed judgment. The webpage associated with the event documents some key ideas that were discussed in real life, in sharp contrast with individuals constructed “internet portraits” sourced form Facebook’s add preferences as well as homepages for the largest data collection agencies in the US as well as ways to opt out of their services. This serves to highlight disconnect one may feel between our online identities when compared to our “real” offline selves. The Internet collects vast amount of information about a user, yet it is important to question the authenticity of that data, and where that data ends up. My act of sharing this with you is akin to data being spread throughout the Internet.