Why Power, Not Privacy, Is at Stake in Online Data Tracking

The degree to which companies can yield the power of individuals' data to explain societal behavior gives them unprecedented amounts of power. Privacy is a relatively minor concern. 

What's the Latest Development?


Based on purchasing data, the retailer Target can tell when women are pregnant, often before extended family members know. And to judge consumer behavior, Google tracks click-through rates on 41 different shades of blue. While the brave new world of big data has ignited concerns over personal privacy, individuals should be more concerned over what companies know about our society as a whole, says Alexander Furnas, a student at the Oxford Internet Institute. More than knowing details about individuals, understanding how we all behave gives companies unprecedented amounts of power. 

What's the Big Idea?

The ethical implications of big data remain mostly unexplored but one already worrying topic involves the concept of asymmetric data. Information-driven companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google have vast stores of data which are meant for company eyes only. "Thus, industry outpaces academia," said Furnas, "and the people building and implementing persuasive technologies know much more than the critics. ...the persuaders [have] more power than the persuaded." To accurately understand the stakes of big data, we should understand our personal information in terms of power rather than privacy. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

 

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