Data Denial

It’s 5 o’clock. Do you know where your data is?

Photo credit: Viktor Hanacek. Source: Picjumbo

Increasingly, our lives are dominated by online activities that require us to share our personal information in order to access the service. Apple uses my location data to improve its Maps app; Facebook knows who my friends are and what they’re doing; Amazon knows all about what I read, listen to, or buy; Google knows what I’m looking for, sometimes even before I initiate a search. Recently a former US official emailed another former official and immediately received targeted ads for hotels in Kabul. That’s not just creepy, it’s dangerous.

These tech giants are living off our data, using the information from our daily lives to run predictive algorithms that can place options in front of us just when we’re about to decide what to eat, where to sleep, or if we need to get our oil changed. It reminds me of the story of Faust, who sells his soul for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. Only we’ve sold our data in order to get promoted tweets for gardening supplies.

I don’t think this will end well. Google is facing antitrust charges in Europe, where privacy concerns are a much bigger deal. (Of course the Russians and Chinese have their own search engines, so they can control that data. Hmm.) The GPS on my phone still routinely sends me in the wrong direction. And Amazon is finding that sellers can game the algorithms on its web site by paying for positive reviews. Like Captain Renault, I’m shocked.

It was amusing at first to think of Santa as an NSA spook who knows when we’ve been bad or good. But he just wants to hand out presents, not sell us stuff. If the data aggregators keep creeping out their own customers, I don’t think their data-driven business model will turn out to be much of a gift.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Phone: 603-224-1350
Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all!

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