The mass acceptance of smart phones and tablets has created the ability to gather and store everything about you very easily, most of it without you noticing. Every website you visit, every physical location you go to, your tweets, posts, likes, photos, every action you take all leave a digital trace; a treasure trove of information. Even doing nothing in some way produces usable data. All of this personal information combined has created the concept known as Big Data mining and companies like Verizon and Comcast are making bank off of this.
Advertising agencies collect our data to study patterns in human behavior in order to continuously customize our online experience. Years of social media and internet usage by billions of people have amassed enough information to create a veritable people search engine. Despite how unique we all like to think we are, we organize into definable trends. After all, people who are similar to you are likely to accept the same financial offer, respond to a particular ad, vote the same way, eat the same food, get the same type of disease.
With 5 billion active cell phones currently in circulation, each capable of communicating with each other and disclosing GPS locations, the people around you alter your profile. Someone tagging you in a post or photo for example directly affects your future browsing experience. Ever notice the day after searching online for those shoes you see an ad on your phone as you happen to be driving by the store that carries those shoes?
The Psychometrics of Big Data Mining
Michal Kosinski, a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driving sub-branch of psychology, has developed a method to analyze people simply based off of their Facebook likes. With a minimum of 68 likes he can accurately predict skin color, sexual orientation, political and religious affiliation, overall intelligence, alcohol, cigarette and drug use, whether or not your parents are divorced. The more likes he had to work with, the more he could accurately portray your personality and predict your behavior beyond even your own comprehension. Given enough likes his algorithm could predict whether or not you were going to break up with your significant other long before you made the decision to do so. People fail to realize that computers have a huge advantage over humans in that they can detect minute changes in behavior, patterns that are beyond the cognition of human beings and therefore can know us better than we know ourselves. Our smartphones are a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and subconsciously.
Viktor Mayer Schonberger, co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, says: “Data gains its own value, gains its own importance and so itself becomes a product to be sold, to be used, to be analyzed and therefore extract value from it, and that changes of course the revenue and business models of every company.”
Target provides a clear example of how companies use Big Data mining to predict future behavior in order to profit. In his article published in the NY Times back in 2012, Charles Duhigg discusses how Target was able to accurately predict a teenage girl was pregnant based off of a specific combination of products she was purchasing. Her father found out through their mailing campaign before she worked up the courage to tell him.
As of now we have very little if any power of ownership over our own information. Third parties aggregate the information and analyze you. They control the information by making you sign agreement forms and contracts. Pretty soon internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon will be able to sell your personal private information without your knowledge or consent. This includes everything from the apps you use, browsing history, GPS locations, financial and even medical data.
Trump Signs Big Data Mining Resolution that Allows Companies to Sell Your Personal Information to the Highest Bidder
The resolution to nullify a December 2016 FCC rule that required ISP providers to obtain permission from customers before selling their personal information to third parties has made its way through Congress, through the Senate and now has been signed by President Donald Trump. Your ISP provider can now sell your information for their own profit. Like to watch porn? Well now the highest bidder will know all about those fetishes you’ve never disclosed to anyone. All of your browsing history goes to the one who offers the most money… all of it. PornHub and Youtube are fighting this by attempting to encrypt their feeds, so be patient if suddenly loading times begin to reminisce of the days of AOL.
Currently we have no idea how much money is being made behind the closed doors of these boardrooms, but it is substantial. Having that kind of power is dangerous. It is being used today to influence your behavior and purchase decisions. You may think you are openly browsing a free internet when it could not be any further from the truth. Everything you see on your screen has become intentional based off of your past in an attempt to predict what you want to buy now or soon.
How do we go about fixing this problem? In the documentary now available on Amazon Prime: The Value of Your Personal Data, Jaron Lanier has the idea that we could view our data as commercial rights, which are a form of privacy. If you live in a place that is defined commercially you have rental agreements and therefore rights over your own living space. Under individual control it will offer safety and privacy. Sure it may make data harder to obtain, however it will make it more difficult to abuse data and therefore could help to protect the economy as a whole.
We are technologically advancing at an extremely rapid pace. Cars are now able to drive themselves; Google has created artificial intelligence; quantum computing in which 1’s and 0’s can now be both at the same time exists; Wendy’s announced they plan to phase out human employees with self-serving kiosks. As we become more automated we will inevitably see more and more people out of work and replaced by machines.
A 2013 study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will be potentially replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years. The numbers only skyrocket from there when dealing with less developed countries.
There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.” – Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of SolarCity, Tesla and SpaceX
If we had ownership over our own personal data we could determine the price for which it is worth and we could financially profit instead of corporations. This could provide the income stream we need to sustain ourselves in a future that seems to be clearly moving towards automation.
The future doesn’t sound bright. Our own personal data will be sold online to the highest bidder and we have no control over it. Or do we?
What can we do now?
Start by encrypting our devices. Try out the Tor web browser: This will allow you to browse the internet anonymously thereby preventing your ISP provider from having information to sell.
Signal encrypts phone calls and texts.
And for the love of God start talking to others about the dangers of Big Data mining and how to protect your personal information online.