Over the past week, I’ve first gone on a controlled social media rampage which was really the ripple effect of a slight emotional imbalance in my ‘real life’, and then opted for complete silence by temporarily (maybe) deactivating my Instagram and Twitter pages. While it is only a matter of time before FOMO gets the best of my young and arguably unsettled mind, I do intend to enjoy the break. As I write this, I have good ol’ Reggae music blaring through my speakers and I’m taking in the early morning breeze. Not bad for a keyboard-happy 21st century millennial eii?
I delivered a speech a few weeks ago based on the acclaimed documentary “The Great Hack” and excerpts of the speech can be found further down this article. The documentary (and speech) will give you an idea of how much of our personal data is mined by “the gods of data collection” in ways we as users are completely oblivious to – except when of course somebody in a Twitter rant tells us how Face App has messed up terms and conditions and is run by the Russians. No shit.
But you’re pretty much at the same risk with any other social media platform. Your data is mined, and select content based on who you are is specifically curated for you to ‘influence’ (I say it’s manipulation really) your actions – what you crave, who you vote for, and so on.
However, even without the well-orchestrated extraction of your data by the internet goons, there’s a form of independence you lose from being dependent on the internet for your…everything – validation, friendships/relationships, business, entertainment, happiness, scale of your progress and so on.
If like me, you too have been conscious enough to see the impact of this immersion in the simulation that is social/digital media in your life especially in relation to productivity and how it affects ‘the real world’, then you know there is a loss of independence that comes with the reliance.
While you ponder on whether or not the internet is sucking the life out of you or not, here’s my last Toastmasters speech titled: “Data Is Gold, But Who’s Mining?”
Do let me know what you think.
As humans, we have a dire need to interact with others and a need for social inclusion; social media was borne out of that need. We created a bubble of some sort and, soon, this bubble became our matchmaker, our means of communication, our source of entertainment, our therapist, and so on. We created a simulated bubble.
However, in order for this simulation to be real, two things had to be put in place: The first is control which we have when we’re on social media. But the second and most important is MEMORY.
Think about how we interact with people in our day to day lives. Imagine if we spoke to somebody today and we didn’t remember that we did. It is as good as that conversation not happening at all! A good example of this is how a website works; programmers would understand this better.
On any website, if you click on “inspect element”, you can edit the source code of the website. This means you can change anything about the website as you wish. You can change the name of the site and change the content. However, when you refresh, everything goes back to normal. Like it didn’t happen. It resets. Because there’s no memory of it.
Now imagine if we had interactions on social media and woke up the next day and they were all gone. It would also be almost like it didn’t happen at all. The only way to retain these interactions, is to create a simulated memory.
This is a database.
In other words, for all your interactions to be real, they need to be stored. This is what makes our interactions solid. Now, just as your memories are stored in your brain so you can revisit them, all interactions are stored in a database which is pretty much a third party brain. The only difference is that somebody has access to this brain. And the ‘person’ doesn’t just have your memory, he/she/they have access to those of billions of people across the world as well.
Without a doubt, this can be used for good. This database or memory knows what you like and brings it to you making you happier. It also knows what you hate and takes it away from you. It helps you remember your friends’ birthdays and also reminds them of yours. But just like most things that have been created by man, it can also be used for evil.
Having access to another person’s memories, gives you more than enough information to manipulate them. This third party brain now knows everybody more than they know themselves. Not only can they structure information to suit individuals specifically, they also now have enough data on everybody and this data can be commoditized. It can be sold.
Now let’s get back to smart phones.
Every single thing we do with our smartphones leaves traces of us behind. When we take a picture, we leave a footprint of our location. When we like pictures, we show what we like. When we answer surveys, we leave data about our personalities.
We even have apps that tell our routines. When we wake up. When we sleep. We have apps that know about our health records, our travel records, our menstrual cycles, our political preferences, the state of our mental health, and so on. The risk is that these digital footprints can be used to build specific data points around every single one of us – and it in fact is already being used. The next problem isn’t just who has access to our data, but who they’re selling it to.
Ever been talking about a car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere? That’s how it works. Your data is collected in real time and attached to your identity, giving every buyer of this data access. Your data is now sold to companies for advert purposes, and armed with this information, they compete for your attention to curate content specifically for you.
- According to The Economist, data has surpassed oil to become the world’s most valuable resource
- Cambridge Analytica, a trillion dollar company that worked primarily on digital data, claimed to have gathered 5,000 data points on every American. (A data point is one specific thing about you. Your eye colour is one, date of birth is another etc.)
- Apple also just recently suspended its practice of having human contractors listen to users’ Siri recordings of the private information of their users.
- Facebook and other social networks allow you share their login system so they do the job of remembering your passwords for you. (Very convenient)
- Cambridge Analytica alone obtained information of over 87 million people through a quiz app.
- A statistician from Target (a US-based store), Andrew Pole, explained how they figured out how a teen girl was pregnant before her father did based on her purchases – with a 85%–95% accuracy level.
- The five most valuable companies in the world today — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google’s parent company Alphabet — have commoditized data and taken over their respective sectors by selling access.
- Amazon’s recommendation engine is responsible for 35% of its revenue.
- Retailers who leverage the full power of big data could increase their operating margins by as much as 60%.
When you browse through newsfeeds, spend time on each post, make comments, send private messages to your friends, etc., You are likely being tracked and your data is sent to algorithms. Later, tailor contented is pushed to hijack your time and money. It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like Justin Bieber or not. Not to be a doomsday preacher but your behaviour is being accurately predicted. We don’t even read terms and conditions. Your digital footprint is now a full service propaganda machine.
Our personal data is being used against us in ways we don’t even understand. They put information into the bloodstream of the internet. What all of these things show is that with every step we make, we are being seen, heard, predicted, and experimented on. Privacy is becoming an illusion. Nothing is what it seems.
While we cannot completely go off the grid because the digital world is now just as important as the world we live in, (which is the reason I’ve kept real world in quote all through this article) we can try to limit the flood of data that we leak all over the place.
Data is gold, but who’s mining it?