Twelve Olympian dieties (Source: Google Image)

Living in Big Data Culture

who are the all-knowing deities?

Last year, citizen of South Korea were left with the huge shock. Based on confidential documents, our National Intelligence Service(NIS) spied on its own citizen through famous messenger app that user can call and text each other using spyware. NIS completely denied it, but refused to release the relevant evidence. Further, NIS agent who was in charge of this data took his own life with suicide note that rejected the claim that NIS was spying on its own citizens and saying the data was used only to protect our citizen. Even though our “metadata” was used for protecting our citizen from North Korean targets or terrorist suspects, was it really a necessary procedure?

Suspicion follows close on mistrust. Since that time, I came to realize that we all being observed by hidden forces, algorithms that we cannot understand, designed by “Big Brother.” However, we often think Big Brother is limited to secret service agency — NIS or NSA.

NSA’s collection of the personal information and the digital activities of millions of people across the world have attracted immense attention and public concern. But there are equally troubling and equally opaque systems run by advertising, marketing, and data-mining firms that are far less known.

As Alice E. Marwic in How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined stated below, before rapid development of technology, there was just one Big Brother we had to fear. However, we are now living in a world with multiple different kinds of Big Brother — all-knowing deities that each one is unbelievably powerful and potentially malign.

map of Facebook user (Source: Google Image)
There are three elements of Weapons of Math Destruction; Opacity, Scale and Damage. The scoring algorithm is hidden. They represent dangerous species that are primed to grow, perhaps exponentially. But the point is not whether some benefit, it’s that so many suffer.

As a mathematician, Cathy O’Neil claims how these concerns relate to Big Data will become worse and our economy and society will become controlled by monopolies to an unparalleled degree, monopolies that monitor our every move.

For example, as one of the biggest and most ubiquitous of those deities, Facebook has been using mathematics into something that could be marketed and making it hard for laymens to figure out what was going on in the back-end. Within Facebook, we can’t see who decide which posts we will view it first, and it turns out that deity play games with our emotions, testing to see how some groups react to being fed, say, more bad news than good. A majority of users — whom are suffering — are still unaware of this.

As shown in The Frontline show on PBS, Generation Like, it is endless cycles of collecting data and sense the valuable data from consumer, and feed them with what they want. TheAudience takes advantage of how the teenager’s express their identity and connect to each other by playing a game of cat-and-mouse with these young consumers. Organizations like theAudience are starting to explore how to optimize their use of our tags, and thus of us. Social media has been seamlessly monitor us to understand behaviors, in turns, everything we liked, tweeted and shared become a part of database to bring benefit to deities in marketing that hold the upper hand in this algorithm.

It is practically impossible to live life, online or offline, without being tracked — unless one takes extreme measures of avoidance. Cities track car movements; radio-­frequency identification (RFID) tags are attached to clothing and dry cleaning;; CCTV cameras are in most stores.

One question may raise at this point: Would it be possible to correct this vicious cycle? What would be my role as designer? According Alice, we are already impossible to live offline because of the technology and also, in my opinion, fear of missing out.

The pressure to be evil comes from that famous root of all kinds of it — money. As a designer, pursuing master’s degree in Interaction design, I may go on to careers working for these vicious cycle. As I go off to work on the algorithms that will govern the lives of all of us, I will not fall in that treadwheel as a designer.


Alice Marwick, “How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined, New York Review of Books, January 9, 2014

O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.