Big Data, Privacy and New Mediocracy

In today’s New York Times Sunday Business section, Steve Lohr writes Big Data is Opening Doors, But Maybe Too Many.  This article forwards a useful, prevailing trope concerning big data: our behavioral information is being collected only more comprehensively, shared ever more broadly among commercial interests, and found to reveal ever more lucrative information that companies, in turn, can transform into more cash for them (and more spending for us!). But this article also makes the same, hubris-tagged mistake that is a common ingredient in every serving of Technology Innovation Kool-Aid: the solution to the problem of technologically more advanced access to all our information is more technology.  The basic idea is that the right technology allows the consumer to understand just how they are being monitored, and then opt out of monitoring. Of course, the real premise is that so long as there is a pathway toward opt-out, then the complaints will be small-scale and the onward march toward mediocracy can continue unchecked. The problem is not open to a technological solution. We are talking social science, and the marketing arms of major corporations know just what they are doing. There is a slippery slope at play, and it’s called, variously, savings, convenience and bargains. Incrementally, many shoppers will barter away slivers of privacy in return for slivers of economic relief, and so it goes that the arrow from privacy to apparently cheap goods runs mostly one way. Who stops using their customer loyalty card at a local supermarket because of privacy concerns, accepting the fact that they will pay higher prices than all the ‘clever’ shoppers around them? Technology doesn’t change marketing practices, it simply pushes boundaries ever further towards efficiencies that benefit those who collect, sell and act on our personal information.

One thought on “Big Data, Privacy and New Mediocracy

  1. Pingback: New Mediocracy Tracking: XBox meets Nielsen Meters | robotfuturesbook

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