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Privacy As Currency

Privacy As Currency

Arguments for and against the use of "Big Data" to tailor services and advertisements litter the blogosphere, but one thing is certain: Without this data, many of the tools society depends on would be inconceivable. However, these revolutionary tools aren't without consequences.  In one prolific example, captured by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, the national retailer Target predicts the pregnancy of, and sends relevant advertisements to, a teenage girl at such an early stage of her pregnancy that her family, friends, and boyfriend had not yet been informed of the new development. The situation caused such an uproar among privacy advocates and those against general 'creepiness' of the situation, that Target artificially diluted the accuracy of its algorithms in order to prevent alienating future customers. 

While companies like Target grapple with the nuances of using this data, break through technologies have emerged that enable us to turn our unused rooms into mini-hostels, prevent food shortages in Philadelphia, and create insanely popular TV shows like Luke Cage. Unfortunately, these technologies face the same privacy concerns that Target once grappled with, and the privacy debate continues to evolve.  This evolution must continuously be refined as society and technology advance, or the political, legal, and ethical frameworks it helped create will no longer provide much protection. Unfortunately, while this debate has evolved around the safety of consumers and the protection of data, there has been little discussion about the economic security of consumers and their data.

Just as countless technological innovations were made possible throughout human history by capitalizing on previously wasted byproducts, data must one day cease to be treated as happenstance, and be understood for the value it possesses. It's not enough for the government to protect the only physical safety of its citizens, it must enable its citizens to be educated and capable enough to fight for their economic security in light of a booming industry. It's only in doing so that consumers will be able to understand the true cost of their consumerism.