It’s 5 o’clock. Do you know where your data is?
Our lives have migrated online, and they’ll only partly come back. But in order to say hi to our kids or grandkids, we need to share our personal information. Facebook wants my birthday, Apple wants to run their GPS, Google has my search history, and Amazon knows all my shopping habits.
The tech giants are living off our data. Forget dollars, gold, or bitcoin, data is the currency of the 21st century. Everyone uses their information from our daily lives to run predictive algorithms that put pop-up ads in front of me just when I’m in the coffee aisle at the grocery store. In Faust, the main character sells his soul for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. In case, we’ve sold our data in order to get promoted tweets for gardening supplies.
I don’t think this will end well. The data giants have ridden the digitization wave to become incredibly profitable – so profitable that the Fab-5 (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google) make up almost 20% of the market. But trouble is brewing. Google faces antitrust charges in Europe. Their GPS on my phone still has the wrong location for my house. Instagram’s algorithms read our pictures to create user profiles, then they sell these profiles to the highest bidder. And Amazon tailors our search results to maximize their profitability. The data economy is the wild west, right now.
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon from Christmas a couple of decades ago. Calvin is listening to ”Santa Clause is Coming to Town” on the radio. When he hears the lyrics, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, or if you are awake,” he turns off the radio and asks: “Is Santa a kindly old elf or CIA spook?”
The data giants may have played Santa with our portfolios, but they’re definitely not kindly old elves. The recent data breaches and hacks make it clear that we need to watch our data like we watch our bank accounts. Because – after all – it’s *our* data.