Data Selfie Wants to Demystify Data Collection for Internet Users

The new app wants to help people understand the data collection landscape and how their online behavior can pose security risks.

While social media may seem focused on content, the real power source behind all of it is data. As marketing and targeting have gotten more sophisticated, data collection has become more nuanced and more prolific. A new browser plugin called Data Selfie seeks to demystify data collection for internet users and to help them understand why companies want their data.

The plugin was created by Hang Do Thi Duc and Regina Flores Mir, second-year Master of Fine Arts students in the Parsons at the New School design and technology program, and will be available both as an iPhone app and a Chrome browser plugin. It crawls Facebook user activity and collects the kind of data advertisers look for, which is everything from likes to text that has been typed but not posted.

Do Thi Duc told Motherboard the goal is to show users how complex data collection is:

People don’t seem to understand there’s not a one-to-one correlation of the things that you do online, it’s the seemingly mundane things you do online that are predictive of who you are.

Data collection and analysis is well understood in the ad industry, but users are much more hesitant about data collection. 77 percent of users surveyed last year thought the internet was becoming more dangerous, and 75 percent of users didn’t believe that companies were doing enough to protect their data. And those users are right to be so skeptical.

Many high-profile leaks have demonstrated that lots of personal data is improperly secured, and users aren’t helping the situation by choosing bad passwords or failing to practice good security hygiene. If any progress is to be made, then internet users need to understand the kind of data that companies collect, and how their online behavior exposes them.

Online security has become more contentious than ever, and the transparency reports aren’t even 100 percent transparent. If users are to be involved in the process of making data security better, they need adequate tools to understand the landscape, and Data Selfie sounds like a solid starting point. For widespread security to work, we need widespread adoption and understanding, and it can’t just be left to the nerds.