Hidden Power of Data

Do we fully realize the power of data? Data is massively used for different business purposes of big companies, with or withour our knowledge. So, maybe, it is time to stop being worried so much about our privacy and start using big data analysis for the benefit of people who produce these data, for the common good?

Vika: Can you believe it? Yesterday I got a message from a to-be hacker that I might wish to change my passwords on all my accounts because by pure chance I became a victim of his training process. What is going on? Is there any respect to privacy these days?

Santi: We live in a hack-able world, any device can be hacked today, from cars to pacemakers. Our privacy is permanently exposed. Actually, we lost it long time ago. Didn’t you notice?

Vika: I can realize that, but still, even if I have nothing to hide, I do not want anybody to hack my private information. I feel so angry about it. I hate to think that someone can get access to my personal e-mails or social network pages without my permission for that.

Santi: Hacking your account is only a top of the iceberg of the privacy death journey. Google is very systematic on tracing you wherever you move, on ‘accidental’ connections to Wi-Fi of private households. And all others: Apple, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft etc. are competing to collect the same data. Gathering information is not per se a violation of privacy, but the analytics and profiling data collection may be, as they can reveal personal facts that we might not wish share with them.

Vika: Yeah, our beloved Google and Apple have already set encryption by default into our devices in an attempt to clean their image after the NSA’s Prism scandal. Even if the companies deny their active involvement, it is questionable whether they do enough to protect our privacy. Google and Facebook have built multibillion-dollar ad targeting businesses based on profiles of their users. It has to be clear: we are their products not customers. By revealing our IQ, gender, race, habits, political views or sexual orientation and by selling these data to the advertisers, those companies could pose threats to our freedom.

Santi: We want to trust them with our information. We wish to self-determine our data privacy and to believe that they will not harm us. But, given an ever-increasing amount of digital traces we leave behind us, it becomes difficult to self-determine which information can be revealed. Our only option is to behave like hypocrites who decide to look away on our privacy in exchange for using free services which we all love so much. But can we really trust those companies with our information? I guess they would not cross any redline, at least, because they would be afraid to lose their profitable businesses, but still… Why should we trust them?

Vika: Using Google, FB or Apple does not necessarily mean that I trust them. As you said, I sort of need to trust if I want to use their services. I provide them with my personal data, but in return I also expect limits of using it which those companies wouldn’t cross. I’m sure you yourself have clear limits to your privacy circle.

Santi: Everybody has his/her limits. I would never forget nor forgive if they intrude my private relationships, and use information that is deeply personal. If they do not cross my own redline I would accept the idea of transparency in a large number of other topics. So what if Google knows where you go? So what if your supermarket knows when you got pregnant? So what if Facebook knows when you fall in love or which friends you trust?

Vika: No way Facebook can know when I am in love or pregnant! That’s unacceptable! There should be some ways to protect ourselves, to control such intrusions. Otherwise, we simply become the victims of sneaky thieves who get into our private space, who get what they want and do with it whatever they want.

Santi: Privacy is the price we pay for freedom, or is it the other way around: freedom is impossible without privacy?! In any case, without privacy people’s behavior will be more conformist and compliant. The loss of privacy will put our minds in prison, constantly being afraid of someone watching. Google, FB and Apple jointly with NSA have created a digital panopticon from which they control us more and more. Unfortunately, current policies on regulating their activities are ineffective. Honestly, I do not believe that laws and regulations will ever be able to protect our privacy anymore. Maybe, we should just forbid those giant companies to gather and analyze our data.

Vika: Why to forbid if the loss of privacy has already suppressed our freedom? On the opposite, we can make use of it. Can you imagine what a huge pool of data they have? If shared openly and smartly, these databases can be of help for so many socially beneficial causes.

Santi: And why exactly would companies give up their data if they make so much money on it?

Vika: Why everything should be about money?

Santi: Money is a very reason why the collect that data in the first place, even if the original principal of the internet is a free and neutral communication network.

Vika: Why can’t they make the data for free for a common good? All those companies are getting their data for free, actually. Hence, they should not hold their exclusive right on it. By making the data public the process of data collection will become more transparent. Data will be available not only to the secret services, but also those individuals and institution who mean to use these data for socially beneficial causes. That would mean less temptation for potential harm and conspiracy. What is the most important: it might bring so many positive changes to social and economic development! Based on these data researchers could study migration, modern human interaction, networking, media usage, improve urban planning, control corruption and public spending, to name just a few.

Santi: Funny enough, we come back to the initial question: so what’s the deal with our privacy? We already lost it anyway, so why not to make its outcome beneficial for everyone? Why our information should be used only in favour of others and not ourselves? Shouldn’t we start acting on it?