Effective Data Expenditure | Day 48 of 100

6min read

I have previously done a post on effective time expenditure which I might do a wee pt.3 on after I have finished Seneca's 'De Brevitate Vitae' (the shortness of life). But writing that post made me think of a possible series of others regarding 'effective expenditure', one of which was data.

I am no privacy guru. In fact, if it were not for a few more privacy savvy friends I would probably still be gormlessly inhaling social media at a rate of knots, and contributing to my own demise-by-targetted-advertising. In the last few days I have done a further purge from whatsapp too following their privacy update in a bid to be rid of it entirely and in its lieu, increase my Signal usage. I think my main blocker here is my FOMO (fear of missing out), on the inevitable group chats which will not budge. In doing this though I have had further thought around the reasons why I chose to be more privacy-focused and protect my data, and initially they are quite selfish...

I don't have anything to hide so why not let the big four/five track me and what I do. I view myself as probably a quite impressionable twenty-something. To whom targetted advertising plays its best role, whether that is influencing the toothpaste I buy or how I vote in an election. If I have been influence in this way, is the decision any longer mine? The same could be said for more traditional methods of advertising, though I think these are easier to avoid, less potent and not so relenting in their pursuit. Regardless of the answer to the previous question, I saw a simple solution to the problem. Remove myself entirely from any platform that could influence my decision-making process. This is all well and good and serves me well, but the data that I'm taking is only half the story. What about the data that I'm giving?

I think giving the data demanded by the big five is not always in our best interest as a consumer. Despite these companies giving reasons of 'improving services for our users'. Why, for example, does the app where I post my pictures need to know what birthday present I'm buying for my brother? The only reason is so that you can use that platform for free. The old saying goes, “if you're not paying for the product, you are the product”. The reality is that these platforms build a digital picture of you and how you live in order to sell your attention to the highest bidding advertiser. Instead of paying with money for the service you're using, you pay with your time (the subject of my other post) and your characteristics (your data). If you think this is a fair price to pay, you crack on. But just so you know where I stand, I'd sooner give them a couple of quid to have my time and character back.

There are plenty of reasons we could talk about concerned with why you should not spend your data in this way. But what should you spend your data on, in my opinion? Sidenote: It's worth mentioning here, that personally, I wouldn't mind giving up specific data for specific purposes/services. For example, sharing my location data with a friend so they can find me. But tracking my 'mindless scrolling' within an inch of its life for a purpose I'm actively opposed to (targetted ads) seems a bit too invasive. To determine what we should spend our data on let me reiterate what we would be sacrificing by handing over our infinite pool of data (for a service entirely funded by us giving up our data).

  1. Our freedom of choice, through hyper-personalised targetted advertising.
  2. Diversity of thought, as we fall into the ways of thinking prescribed by the highest bidder.
  3. Our time, as we fall into the hypnosis of a platform. (and all the other side-effects of ineffective time expenditure)
  4. Our mental health as a by-product of all the above.

Based on whether you value the above, you may think of it as an expensive or a cheap price to pay for a service. If you're in the cheap camp, trade this have likes on your photos and rants buzzfeed articles with your 'friends' so that they too can pay this price. If you're in the expensive camp, then you might be leaning towards spending your data on helping others. An example might be the Zoe app which is used to track Covid cases, symptoms and how the virus is spreading or retreating helping us learn about covid and combat it more effectively. Zoe currently predicts the behaviour of the virus in the UK about a week ahead of the ONS (office for national statistics) data.

Your data is personal to you, it might be similar to someone else's but it describes you. In a similarly personalised way, you must choose for yourself what you are willing to trade for it. Value what you would lose by giving it up (impacts to you, your family/friends, children), and consider whether it is worth the trade for the service being offered. In my opinion, it's not worth risking the manipulation of my freewill just to use trendy apps or services.

#100daywritingchallenge #effectiveexpenditure