New and converging technologies are providing us with a new range of opportunities. Everything is
available to us from our homes: we can do research in libraries around the world; we can do our
shopping and banking through the television or the computer; we can watch a recent feature film by
dialing up the "pay per view" channel; and we can even join video conversation on the Internet.
There is, however, a downside to the information society. Every purchase you make using a cash or
debit card, every phone call you make, every text message you send, everything you do on Facebook,
every web page you visit and every e-mail message you send leaves a digital trail. This trail can (and is)
picked up by sophisticated computer programs, which can access and compile information about your
lifestyle and consumer choices. As you’ll recall from The Merchants of Cool, this information is very
Have you ever wondered what your digital trail looks like? Examine the example below of someone’s
Here are some examples of the electronic trails we leave during a hypothetical day:
8:30 a.m - You exit your apartment parking lot
Cameras, and possibly a card, record your departure.
8:35 - Pull onto a toll highway
A device records your entry and exit points, in order to send you a bill at the end of the month.
8:42 - Caught in a traffic jam, you call work to delay a meeting
Cellular phone calls can easily be intercepted, and new personal telephones will signal your
whereabouts to satellites to deliver calls.
9:17 - Enter office parking lot
Card records your entry and its time; automatic cameras monitor the garage.
9:20 - Enter main office/plant door
"Swipe" cards record your comings and goings; active badges allow others to locate you
anywhere in the building.
9:25 - Log on to your computer
The system records the time you logged in.
9:29 - Send a personal e-mail to a friend, and a business message to a colleague
Both can later be read by your employer, since simply deleting them does not erase them from
the computer's hard drive.
10:45 - Call your mother
Supervisors may monitor phone calls.
11:00 - Make a delivery using a company vehicle
Many company vehicles have geo-positioning devices to plot vehicle locations; some even have
"black boxes" to record your driving habits.
12:05 p.m. - Stop at the bank machine
The system records details of your transactions, while cameras overhead or in the machine
record your behaviour.
12:10 - Buy a birthday gift for a friend
Your credit card records details of the purchase, while the retailer's "loyalty card" profiles the
purchase for points and directed discounts. Banks may also use spending patterns to help
assemble complete customer profiles.
12:35 - Doctor's appointment
Health cards will soon contain small computer chips to record your complete medical history on
the card. The blood sample you gave contains DNA, which could be tested for a wide variety of
conditions; the subsequent doctor's diagnosis may be disclosed to your insurance company, and
the details sent to a centralized U.S. registry run by the insurance companies.
1:15 - Pick up your prescription
Some provinces have online drug networks which share your drug history with pharmacies
across the province, and may be disclosed to police tracking drug abuse.
1:30 - Return to work
Card records your return.
2:45 - Provide urine sample for employer's new drug testing program
Reveals use of targeted drugs, though not of impairment. Sample may also reveal the use of legal
drugs such as birth control pills, insulin and anti-depressants.
3:30 - Meeting in a secure area
Pass through a security check, which scans your retina to confirm identity.
5:30 - Complete first draft of report
Your computer not only records your content, but can also store information about keyboard
speed, error rate, and the lengths of pauses and absences.
6:15 - Leave the office
Your exit is recorded by the computer, the entry system and the parking lot.
6:30 - Buy groceries
Your debit card records the purchase, while a loyalty card tracks your selections for marketing
and targeted discounts.
6:45 - Pick up a video
The store's computer records your Social Insurance Number and viewing preferences. This may
allow the store to sell your viewing preferences (say, Erotica) to other companies.
7:20 - Listen to phone messages
Your phone has recorded callers' phone numbers, and will also (unless you enter a code to block
it) display your number when you call others.
8:20 - Order clothing from catalogue
The catalogue company records your personal details and credit card number, and may sell the
information to database-list marketers.
8:30 - Subscribe to a new magazine
Magazines routinely sell their subscribers' lists to mass mailers.
8:35 - Take call from a survey company
Such companies gather political views, social attitudes and personal views, though some surveys
are actually marketing calls to collect personal data for future sales. The legitimate surveys
destroy personal identifiers once the data are processed.
8:45 - Political canvasser comes to your door
Political contributions of more than $100 (the amounts, and the party they're contributed to) are
listed in public records.
9:10 - Log onto the Internet
Your choice of chat groups and your messages can be monitored, and a profile can be assembled
by anyone - including the police. Some Web sites monitor your visits.
Make your own digital trail like the one above. Pick a typical school day (from when you leave the house
until you go home for the night). Try to include all the activities that could be tracked. Things to
remember are that almost everything leave a trail (even the attendance at school is tracked by
computer, all busses and subways have cameras, your phone may be a GPS device, your cell phone
knows where you are at all times).
Have you ever considered how much information you may be openly sharing? I will assume that
everyone has a Facebook account (if you do not, do this task with a partner who does, but you still must
produce your own work to hand in). A key thing to understand about Facebook is that everything you
can see on your page is shared to Facebook’s advertising clients. Even if you are not sharing your
information with other people, all the info is shared with the advertisers (this is how they make money).
Facebook matches up what it knows about you to advertising you may be interested in. In addition, if
you have Facebook applications, your information is being shared with them as well. That information
can be used by other companies and organizations.
Log on to your Facebook account and complete the chart below:
Item on Page What is on your page What these say about What companies or
you as a person and organizations would
consumer (what you find this information
like/do not like, what valuable , and why?
you do for fun,
interests, what you
may/may not buy)
Person info, profile, etc
Wall posts (by you and
Message (yes, Facebook
reads the email
messages for ad key
Your friends What can Facebook tell
about you based on
Other (events, fan
Open a Facebook message and see if the advertising on the page matched anything (or is related any
way) to the content of your message. Keep trying message until you find a match. If you have no
messages, send one to a friend about an interest you have (music, movie, TV show, etc). See if any
keywords in the message bring up an advertising match. Explain your match below.