Everyone wants a piece of me: metadata, scientists & the big data frontier

The more and more we become immersed in connected technology it seems the more often we are faced with the implications of our privacy.

A dominant reading of the potential pitfalls of our engagement with digital media is definitely one of dystopia. This is no surprise with fears of big business sharing the traces of data we leave from our engagement online and generally our community is becoming more and more reliant on surveillance.


This ‘datafication’ of everything we do online has resulted in a new scientific paradigm that is both problematic for both the collectors and the citizens providing it (van Dijck 2014).

It seems that the powers of technology has big business ‘giddy’ with the possibilities of what inferences can be made from data and is collecting large swathes of it, every way they can.

All I want to do is download angry birds without worrying who has downloaded my information and what that says about me?!


So what exactly is metadata?

The real gold these filthy prospectors are after lies in metadata – the information about our interactions online. One type is descriptive metadata that includes keywords that could lead to inferences about everything from how we react or feel about a certain topic or person to our relationships, wants, needs, fears, hopes and dreams. Theoretically, inferences could be made from a broad range of things just based upon keywords.

Metadata also includes specific information about a user including the title, author, subjects and publisher of information.

From Datafication is bred an exciting new chapter for corporations – predicative analysis – where the real fun starts for those interested in what you want.

Just imagine if you could tell whose line of ‘BO basher’ I am likely to prefer in ten years. Just imagine scientists!


There’s already evidence that information scientists can make inferences from data left behind online.

Kosinski and others (2013) proved that inferences about human behaviour could be predicted from Facebook Likes. Everything from sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality to intelligence and happiness was derived from social media interactions.

The scariest thing about this seems to be that everyone is lining up with a hand out to get access to our data.

The Australian Federal Government recently released a list of 60 organisations that include everything from local councils to the Department of Fisheries – all strutting their stuff under Freedom of Information Laws.

But it’s not just government agencies interested in the supposed power of metadata, educational institutions also are quite curious about what our smartphone says about us.

The digital footprint I leave behind really means that nowhere is safe. It’s not significant anymore if I choose to shop at home or like something while strolling through uni – everyone wants a piece of me!

While all this is going on behind the scenes, the solution would seem to create a pseudonym and carry it across all of your devices, apps, profiles, everywhere. They can have all the random info they like about I.P Freely!

Perhaps another option – feel relief in the fact that the sorting of fact from fiction when it comes to data mining is probably about as fraught with complication as it is for the citizen who blindly engages with digital media.

The lesson from all of this is to be mindful that while there may be advantages in engaging with digital media, more often than not the potential pitfalls of data retention have yet to be fully realised.

(580 words excluding citations).


van Dijck, J 2014, ‘Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology.’ Surveillance & Society 12, 2, 197-208, retrieved 30/8/2016, http://www.surveillance-and-society.org.

Kosinski, M, Stillwell, D and Graepel, T 2013, ‘Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behaviour,’ PNAS, 110, 15, 5802–5805, retrieved 30/8/2016, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/03/06/1218772110.full.pdf+html.

VAPE-FEAR (Dark Vaporwave, Synthwave, Triphop, Chill Trap Mix) by 209 SINS (cc by 2.0)


15 thoughts on “Everyone wants a piece of me: metadata, scientists & the big data frontier”

  1. Hi Brett,

    Really enjoyed this post. It was intelligently and articulately written with an interesting mix of information and thoughtfulness. I have always wanted to think more on what the implications 0f our constant ‘clicks’ and in what way the corporations are benefitting from this footprint we all thoughtlessly and constantly leave behind.

    The media included in the post was very beneficial to gain a greater understanding of metadata for the laymen like myself. Perhaps one more image in the bottom section of the piece may be beneficial for the viewer, but it is difficult to fault such a witty and interesting post!

    Thanks Brett I looking forward to reading more of your work.


  2. Very interesting podcast. I actually learned some new things about the online identity and most importantly, what is happening with the information we give on different databases, sometimes without even thinking. This post also introduced to me some new terms like “metadata” and “datafication”. I literally googled these terms to find out more about them. It was great to see you included your own opinion and advice on the matter. Your research and digital material worked well in the effectiveness of your blog post. Really good work !!

    – Angela

  3. Brett, I love your vocab mate! Datafication, metadata, giddy and Bo-basher, all pretty abstract words that you incorporated into your blog post, and in a very flowing manner. I liked the pictures included, they adding a bit more character to the post. The embedded podcast was very informative; the background music was an excellent touch to help engagement. You spoke in a very clear and calm manner, however t might have paid to be a little less monotone whilst speaking, just something to consider. I really thought referencing Van Dijck’s work inside your podcast was a very creative way to add in a reference. Overall, Good work!

  4. Great use of words Brett! Loved the pictures you included, they fit very well with your blog post and
    you definitely put your time and effort into this with the music you added in your podcast. You spoke in a clear voice which made it easy to follow and understand what you were saying.

    It was very interesting to read about the information we leave behind on the internet. I learnt a lot about how even the smallest things we do online can leave a footprint and got me thinking about how much of my information is out there.

    Keep up the great work!
    – Fartun

  5. Vamos a hacer una campaña de concienciación y estudiamos medidas preventivas.
    Hemos compendiado muchas ideas, contando con participación de
    vecinos y vecinas de la capital española que nos han hecho llegar sus demandas, con los inspectores técnicos y con experiencias puestas en marcha en otras urbes.
    Estamos estudiando su aptitud, pero esta fase todavía
    no está definida ni se ha concretado ninguna medida firme.

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