Who is getting rich off you? The insidious big data economy.
Where is your data now? Follow the money.
RITA GUNTHER MCGRATH: A conservative estimate of how much your personal information is worth to these data brokers is on the order of $240 a year for each of us, for millions and millions of people. And that adds up to a really, really big number. And a lot of that data, right, and the advertising against that data is just getting sucked out of conventional sources and going right into the pockets of the big data brokers like Facebook and Google and even Amazon, also a whole bevy of smaller data brokers-- you know, people who run little websites like, you know, Housekeepers Like Me and, you know, do you have insurance, and are you in the market for a new car? And people willingly hand over this information, which then gets aggregated and copied across databases and then put into this package which advertisers can then use to target you. I think we're just at that very early stages where a few people are sounding the alarm. But that has not spread out to the masses yet. I mean, all those people posting about their grandkids on Facebook don't understand. The minute that thing goes up on the internet, they have lost control of it. They don't own it anymore. And the minute you do a quiz or the minute you volunteer any information about yourself, I'm sorry, it's their data, not yours, I think it kind of crept up on them by accident. And I think about how Google, for example, got into the data business. They had built this fantastic search engine, but they had no way of monetizing it. And it wasn't until they figured out that you could sell ads against search-- and in the beginning, it wasn't collecting personal data. Let's not forget that. In the beginning, it was, if I go in and search on tennis rackets and you show me an ad on tennis rackets, that's kind of OK. Like, that doesn't bother me that much. It's when you start to get more pervasive. And I think where they crossed the line-- maybe without intending to, but where they started to cross the line was when you start targeting. When you start saying, I can get you, you know, ads posted to 14-year-olds living in Princeton, New Jersey who wear Keds tennis shoes, by the time you get that level of precision posting or targeting, I think that's where you've crossed a line. And I think we've gotten ourselves now into a situation where a lot of people are going, hey, what? You can do that? And just as an example, so Facebook can actually allow people that want to rent an apartment to exclude African-Americans, exclude people who are Jewish, exclude people who are Latino. That is actually against the Fair Housing Standards Act of 1968. So to me, that's an example of crossing a very big line. So instead of just saying, OK, if I'm searching for, you know, tennis rackets and showing me an ad about tennis rackets, going that extra mile and saying, because I know everything you've been writing and I know that tennis is really important to you and I know that you spend on average $567 per year on tennis related paraphernalia, I'm going to sell an advertiser a super targeted ad to just reach you. I mean, to me, that's creepy. That just gets to the-- it's not so much about privacy. It's about this ability to sort of algorithmically target on characteristics we may not want the world to know about. An even more insidious use of data to me is if you look at the recent agreement by 23andMe with one of the big pharma companies to hand over their data. And it was for billions of dollars. Now the thing I really think is kind of objectionable about that is you've already paid to have that data analyzed. You've not necessarily given 23andMe permission to further monetize that data just because they have it to other people. So you know, to me, there's a huge amount of institutional lag here. You know, our rules about property rights and your rights to your own data are so far behind practice that I think we're in for a big reckoning.
- Your day to day actions on the Internet give businesses personal data that turns you into an ad target – or the opposite.
- Facebook, for example, allowed landlords to block demographic groups such as African Americans, LGBTQ, or disabled people from seeing housing ads – a violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
- Data brokers have crossed a line, but the laws that should regulate them are outdated; just look at the billion-dollar data deal between 23andMe and Big Pharma. Is it ethical?
The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
- And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Image: The Pudding
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Image: The Pudding
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
Image: The Pudding
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.
- Through the Connectome Project we may soon be able to map the pathways of the entire human brain, including memories, and create computer programs that evoke the person the digitization is stemmed from.
- We age because errors build up in our cells — mitochondria to be exact.
- With CRISPR technology we may soon be able to edit out errors that build up as we age, and extend the human lifespan.
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