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Revealing your data: Facebook prepares to track screen cursors

Published time: October 31, 2013 11:42
Edited time: November 01, 2013 12:20
Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Facebook is a step away from tracking cursors on your computer and portable device screens to understand your tastes better, the company’s top official has vouched in an interview. The project is part of a huge increase in the volume of data collection.

The social site’s analytics chief, Ken Rudin, has revealed his corporation is ready to introduce a technology that would enable the collection of even more information about a web-surfer via cursor movements on your screen, the Wall Street Journal reports.

While you’re apparently aimlessly working your computer mouse or touchpad, pondering where to click next while running through a webpage, your brain is actually making choices - MANY choices at a time.

And Facebook is determined to collate them, in order to understand better how you choose your selections and what you’re really interested in, even if you’re to some extent unaware of these choices yourself.

The captured information is stored in data banks, with immediate access “throughout the company”. This is invaluable for many purposes, such as product placement analysis or targeted advertising, Mr. Rudin said. Facebook can even divulge your sexual preferences, if it needs to.

Mr. Rudin revealed that collected personal information is divided into demographic and behavioral.  The first deals with your physical whereabouts and the places you frequent. The second is more subtle as it deals with your preferences, likes and loves. This is actually more revealing of yourself and your personality.

When, for perhaps just a split second, you ponder whether to click on a link about Rhianna’s new haircut, and then refrain from following it – it won’t save you.

Collecting demographic personal information is relatively easy; private investigators have been collecting that kind of data for a long time, whereas psychological profiling is a delicate matter. But Facebook, which introduced another powerful personality data collection tool – ‘likes’ - might eventually turn artistic psychological analysis to profit.

Vladimir Kremlev for RT

Most likely the new application is going to be in demand by business, for marketing and other purposes. But who knows the full extent of these data-trawling techniques? With the NSA wanting to know everything about anyone, this technology is doomed to hit surveillance toolkits soon.

As the WSJ [Wall Street Journal] rightfully mentioned, Facebook is not the first one to go down this path. In the digital images market, Shutterstock Inc. has been collecting similar data for some time already, but the company simply cannot compete with Facebook’s computational capabilities.

Facebook is at this moment busy adapting its own cursor-tracking technology for the open-source framework, Hadoop, capable of storing massive data arrays on networks of computers. The only difference is that Facebook has got a behemoth data warehouse of its own and is “preparing the company’s infrastructure for a massive increase in the volume of its data”.

Facebook has modified Hadoop, adding to the framework some software layers of its own to rank the data according to its value and ensure easy access to it, Mr. Rudin said. The Facebook official specifically stressed that the project’s major achievement is correct indexing, because even a minor failure could render massive bulks of data useless.

“Instead of a warehouse of data, you can end up with a junkyard of data,” Mr. Rudin told the WSJ at the Strata and Hadoop World Conference in New York. For that reason Facebook has had to develop a special internal search engine for its analytics warehouse to make the data accessible, he said.

There is a general trend among IT giants these days as, companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook are developing increasingly sophisticated means of collecting consumer data online.
American IT giants claim they are simply obliged to comply with NSA demands, so once these companies learn something about their users, this will end up in government’s hands anyway.

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