A Modest Proposal: Data in the 21st Century
You sit down at the table. You open your laptop, you’re looking for something online. You’re not sure what it is. It’s on the tip of your tongue, you just had it in your head, you’re blanking… BOOM. A pop-up in the bottom right of your screen “Bluetooth speaker on sale 50% off.”
“How did they know?” you think to yourself. The answer is simple, big corporations and third parties have an extreme insight into our personal preferences and lives due to their invasion and distribution of personal data. Convenient right? In a way, it’s almost too convenient. Well, how about some facts and figures for you to put this into perspective. Google gets over 3.5 billion searches daily — that’s almost half the world Googling things like “Why is my eye twitching” and “Why do I sweat so much?”. Yes, these are real searches reported by Google. Big Data, as an industry, is set to rise to $62.10 billion by 2025. Meaning people are literally getting paid billions to invade your privacy. And lastly, and perhaps my favorite statistic, it would take a person approximately 181 million years to download all the data from the internet. 181 million years ago, dinosaurs were the apex, Pangea was the single and largest landmass on the planet, and humans were minute prokaryotic cells. How far we’ve come!
It’s great. Gone are the days of not knowing what to get your Dad, who when you ask what he wants for Christmas he replies with, “Oh nothing, I already have everything a father could need.” — Bleh. Where is your sense of undying consumerism and excessive use of online retailers? Amazon pop-ups have you covered.
Struggling to find a pedicurist near you? No worries, Google Ads will provide you with a plethora of premium parlors and practitioners who are sure to serve your needs. This is of course only possible through their acquisition of your exact location, previous online searches, and record of all your online purchases from the last six months.
Data is great! Who would have thought that people we have never met before would be able to craft clear images of exactly who we are, the people in our lives, and the things we like with as little as a social security number or YouTube subscription?
This brings me to my honest and quite modest proposal; I advise that we should collectively buy into the exploitation of our data and ourselves by large corporations because, simply put, it is greatly convenient. Go ahead, provide personal information such as your address, full name, and mother’s maiden name. Why stop there? Why not offer up PIN numbers, work history, car information, and credit status? Not only is it convenient, but data like this has a wide range of uses. We can use data everywhere, whether it’s advertisement targeting or compromising the integrity of our democratic elections. Awesome right?
Let’s play a quick hypothetical game so I can help you visualize the broad benefits of selling our data. Imagine I am a political lobbyist for the up-and-coming candidate Donald Dickerson. Mr. Dickerson’s analysts have found that his constituents are almost entirely upper class and White. He thinks to himself, “Darn, I’ll never win this election if all these other demographics are voting for my opponent”. What to do? Ping, a data-powered light bulb has just gone off in Mr. Dickerson’s head. What if he and his analysts purchase a large hoard of metadata from a big online company. Let’s call this company “FaceNovel”, an exciting new site where you can interact with friends, meet new people, and join online groups. To sign up for FaceNovel you must input your zip code, email address, and inadvertently provide your IP address to the data technicians at FaceNovel.
Mr. Dickerson realizes many people that identify as some of the demographics who are not voting for him can be isolated by zip code. Mr. Dickerson realizes that if he cannot win the votes of these groups, he can simply prevent them from voting. He and his analysts now organize the metadata based on zipcodes and begin covertly sending mass media advertising incorrect voting dates and locations to IP addresses registered under these zip codes. Suddenly, as if overnight, these demographics do not vote at the next polling event and Mr. Dickerson wins the big election.
People are irate, “I didn’t vote for him” many exclaim. But hey, at least Mr. Dickerson and his friends are happy, and it’s all because of data. Data is the best.
Now look, of course, in an ideal world somewhere in the distance, we could all practice safe online activity, use secure internet connections, and not provide our personal information freely to third parties that we do not understand or know. But hey, why would we do that? Why would we take the precaution of moderated internet usage, go through the trouble of using internet providers that ensure our safety, and inadvertently sacrifice the convenience of great stuff like autogenerated preferences and pop-up ads just to be safe?
The tradeoff just makes no sense!