Watching People Watching People: Notes On Reading The Internet


Don’t you want to know what other people are doing on the internet? What sites they go to? How long they spend on each one? I think about this all the time.

It’s just you and your choices. Just you, your choices, and the advertising companies desperately trying to track your choices. Wait, no. Just you, your choices, the advertising companies desperately trying to track your choices, and the government. Given the recent admission by Google and Facebook to tracking user’s choices in order to sell that information to advertisers, in addition to the Federal government’s recent interest in making it easier to wiretap peer-to-peer online communiqués, I thought I’d do my part and go public with my internetting tendencies. You know, just put it out there. What follows is a collection of random thoughts in an attempt at a comprehensive study of online usage.

Let’s say it’s an average day.

First, I open my gmail account. I check my messages, maybe send a few messages, look to see who else is on gmail, make sure that I’m switched to invisible. One of my least favorite features of gmail is that it allows you to see who else is online. I don’t need to know who amongst my friends and colleagues is using gmail. But of course I look. I look at the list of names and smugly think they’ve got nothing better to do. Which is funny, of course. I’ve got less than nothing better to do. I’m the one looking to see who’s on gmail.

Do you think the government knows this? How is Google selling this information to advertisers? Can I offer to sell my own information directly to advertisers and cut out the middleman? I imagine a young man – no older than twenty-four, twenty-five – with freshly pressed white button-down dress shirt, and thick, well blow-dried head of hair, sitting in some slick government office, watching me watching the internet.