We produce digital traces everyday, many of these traces on their own don’t have much meaning. The simple fact that you buy a specific make of cereals for your child or specific nappies online constitutes a digital trace of his/her consuming patterns at a very early age and this information alone does not come across as problematic. Yet when we start bringing digital traces together, then we start building narratives of an individual’s behavioural patterns. This is what happens through ‘digital profiling’.
Today digital profiling is done by machines and by humans alike. The Propublica series of short videos is particulalry revealing, for instance their video on What Facebook Knows about You and How does this Relate to Profiling? can provide you with an understanding about the ways in which digital profiling is carried out by machines. However, digital profiling has increasingly become a widespread anthropological phenomenon. The school headmaster, the employer, the insurer constantly checks the digital profiles of individuals in order to reach conclusions about their behavioural or psychological characteristics. An article by the Washington Post on how Facebook Profiles Reveal Personality Traits to Researchers is a particularly interesting read. It is for this reason that we need to be aware of the different forms of profiling that our digital traces can enable. One example that we should consider, for instance, is the example of political profiling.