We’ve all encountered the creepy moment when we experience the realization that the machines surrounding us are paying a bit more attention to us than we thought. A stray remark around Alexa, a quick text, or some research over homework on the laptop, and we inadvertently fed the corporate machine some data. Later you pull out a phone and find ads on a page for something you were just thinking about.
Data is shared to the third party
Did the phone read your mind? In a way, it did. What we don’t often appreciate is that big media is very well-connected behind the scenes. Google, Facebook, and Amazon all share marketing data to some degree, which means virtually everything you type and every meme you look at on the Internet is being reported to one of those three. They, in turn, sell that data to third-party businesses which can then send a targeted marketing effort your way.
It’s not so much that people object to a commercial itself. Advertising is a fact of life worldwide in consumerist societies. It’s that with all the keyword-sniping precision of these algorithms in clear evidence, it makes you wonder what other data they collect that you don’t know about? Is there a 3D-model of each of us in some digital limbo out there, tagged with all our vital stats and our most private thoughts? Are these models so predictive that they can try to sell us a coffee at the exact instant we head out to work in the morning?
There are deeper concerns afoot than how much we trust Google or Facebook because we still have the possibility of that data getting compromised. Data leaks happen all the time, from credit rating companies to social networks. If a criminal can wreak havoc on our lives by obtaining our social security number and PIN, what can they do with our deeper, more personalized data? Competitors like Hotbot have sprung up in the wake of this.
A growing culture of privacy and safety advocates have risen to voice concerns over these issues. Chief among them is none other that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the original creator of the World Wide Web, who now serves as the president of the Open Data Institute, as well as serving on various advisory boards and board member functions for technology companies and committees. Privacy advocates have rallied around alternative search engines at his urging, including DuckDuckGo.
Comes the AI Algorithms
Advertising existed for decades without smart artificial intelligence algorithms eavesdropping on our every word, and capitalism did just fine then. There may come a day in the future when consumers reign in big data corporations, limiting what they can and can’t do. Or perhaps users will turn to blockchain and encryption methods to navigate the information space with their privacy in their own hands, or put their trust solely in open source search engines so everyone can see what they’re up to. There are always more niche-specific options as well. If you’re looking for something a little more on the racy side, there’s always https://hot.com.
After all, Google and Facebook have had a nice run, but like every technology company which becomes a monopoly, there’s nowhere to go from here but down.
Photos courtesy of gettyimages.com