Smart phones took our online interactions to a 24-7/365 obsession that has skewed the marketplace for innovation so much toward instantly gratifying apps that some of the worlds smartest people worry we have seen the last of breakthroughs for civilisation as our focus is now simply on already existing ideas becoming quicker, smaller and more addictive. They key to fuelling this highly lucrative marketplace? YOU!
Your personal data is now one of the worlds most valuable resources. In 2017 personal data surpassed the price of oil for the first time & it has just kept on going. The type of information you share with companies in exchange for their products and services has massive value. That recently downloaded app, subscription or online service that is not charging you money…they are not charities; your personal data is traded for access. Take some of the main online players in Big Tech for instance: Google, Facebook and Twitter. These are the arbiters of information in society today.
They have created outstanding platforms which are free to use for the consumer. Their money comes from 3rd party advertisers and from selling your personal data to companies, governments, NGO’s, marketers and anyone willing to pay for a slice of you. They then use this information to retarget products or services to sell to you, to analyse and use for product development or even for political strategies. The level of depth in terms of how far into your private life they can extract information can be easily tested in the following way: install Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp in your smartphone (all companies owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook). Once you have granted access to your camera/microphone, which is practically essential for use, have some conversations via any of those platforms about almost any product, service or brand name and in less than 24 hours you will be seeing advertising within those apps targeting you with the same products that you have discussed in your ‘private conversations’, try it and see…it is f***ing scary!
So, what does this mean? Well it means that privacy is a thing of the past as the prevalence of these products and services whether it is for work or pleasure pretty much ensures that our data is simply the currency of the internet. We say yes and sign up to user agreements which few people read and we get absolutely nothing in return for our data, except for access. Many people think it is a fair trade off and I, myself, use all the above-mentioned apps daily but I do wonder if these tech giants along with Apple, Microsoft, YouTube and Amazon might become TOO powerful. The algorithms and level of genius involved in designing how we interact with the platforms already ensures that echo chambers are now standard and dopamine inducing ‘engagement’ on social media has been compared to drug addiction.
Big Tech effectively controls the global spread of information (and misinformation) today and considering these companies seem to also control and predict how we will react to it, we must ask ourselves the question: Do we really know where reality ends and filter bubbles or ‘curated experiences’ begin?
Text: Kevin Maher, debater