Often when we talk about big data, we talk about the endless opportunities it provides us. However, we should also talk about ownership of data and how it is interpreted. One thing is data extraction. Another thing is the ability to interpret and use it.
Raw data in itself is useful but not as useful as the ability to analyse and interpret it. This brings me to the question of ownership. It is only possible to interpret and analyse if you have access to the data in question. And in the end, it boils down to ownership and power.
Journalist Ben Tarnoff writes about giving data back to the people in an article for The Guardian and uses the analogy of data being the new oil, a point that Samar also makes in one of his previous posts.
Imagine if big data is a resource open and accessible for all. Imagine if all the data we create everyday through insignificant acts such as liking a friend’s post on Facebook or adding something to a wish list on Amazon, or surfing websites, is open to all.
Every act we perform on the internet leaves traces. And many of us don’t think about these traces we leave in our online wake as something we should own since we willingly give up the information. But the fact is, we are all contributing to the goldmine that is big data. And, that goldmine is owned by very few.
Fortunately, we as consumers and citizens are becoming more aware of how a handful of companies, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, are using technology to monitor and manipulate us.
Activists and open source adherents call for an open data movement where data is open to the public so citizens have the chance to reclaim their decision-making role. Access to more data can empower citizens and improve lives.
Academics Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias talk about data colonialism, a point Emanuel also makes in his previous post. Couldry and Mejias argue that a new social order is in the making where continuous tracking of human beings is leading to social discrimination and exploitation of human beings through data.
As long as data is not open and public, it creates an “annexation of capital to private lives” (Couldry & Mejias 2018: 6). The commodification of data makes it impossible for us as ordinary citizens and consumers to avoid the grips of big business. Opponents say you can always opt out, but how? Big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon dominate the online space. “Consider the fast-growing ´Internet of things´- The goal is clear: to install into every tool for human living the capacity to continuously and autonomously collect and transmit data within privately controlled systems of uncertain security” (Couldry & Mejias 2018: 9).
Amazon is one of the largest colonisers and uses technology to monitor our lives and sell us things based on our activities online. For example, its new supermarket model. With its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon, has gone from being an online retailer to a combination of both online and physical. Having removed all checkout counters, Amazon allows shoppers to walk out of their stores with goods without having to pull out their wallets. The sensors at the exits monitor the goods and shoppers are billed to their Amazon account. Another example of Amazon colonising our private lives, is their trial drone delivery service. When dropping off deliveries, the drones take pictures of roofs only to send roof repair ads to those in need of repairs.
“Is this convenient or creepy? It depends. One minute, you’re grateful for the personalised precision of Netflix’s recommendations. The next, you’re nauseated by the personalised precision of a Facebook ad” (Tarnoff 2018, The Guardian)
I don’t know about you, but I find it creepy. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.