The Data Industry

I’ve been thinking about you… and all that data you generate.

I’m not the only one. Did you ever give proper thought to the data industry?

Down the Drain

This week, data collection news took a rather putrid turn in a story out of England where polio was detected on routine screening of the sewage. Polio has been eradicated in England since 2003, and no cases have turned up thus far. The risk is considered low but investigators are considering what to do with the foul news.

We have all heard that sewage analysis for COVID was occurring and helpful, but I never considered what else was being done. You have to consider perspective of the investigator. Can we test sewage as it leaves each neighborhood or maybe each house to find out where the polio is? And while we are at it what else can we tell about the health of the household? It could quickly become medical testing without consent.

You might not be surprised then to hear about Putin’s policy of collecting his own excrement when abroad and taking it back to the motherland for proper disposal to avoid spilling personal (or state) secrets abroad. Is this where we are?

Eyes on you

You might think that nobody cares about yourexcrement. I’m here to tell you that data is power. You surely already know that data mining projects are lurking everywhere. 

Your personal assistant apps are listening to you. Search engines and websites can track you after you leave their site. They can see what else you have installed on your computer, the size of your screen, your precise location.

We apparently agreed to it all in terms and conditions. You missed that? Facebook is particularly infamous. They watch your every move even when you’re not on it. They own WhatsApp and Instagram and incorporate that data to generate personalize ads and whatever else. They also have many other partners that send them data. It’s as easy to turn off the surveillance as it is to turn back the tide. Articles say the only way to really stop Facebook is to delete all three apps.

Consider this:

A recent investigation showed 33 of Newsweek’s top 100 hospitals used a tool called Meta Pixel, which sent data to Facebook every time a patient scheduled a doctor appointment. “Meta Pixel is a piece of code that tracks users as they navigate through a website. It’s one of the most ubiquitous tracking tools on the internet, present on around 30% of popular websites, the investigation noted.” Experts say it is quite likely a HIPPA violation.

Data is the new Oil

From one perspective the Internet is about getting users to give their money to companies. There is a massive economic engine there. The bottom line is well-targeted ads make real money, and they’re worth all the hassle of getting user data. I read an article that calls data the new oil.

“It runs the engines of modern e-commerce, contributes to the development of new products and technologies, is controlled by a large network of possibly untrustworthy companies, and frequently gets spilled into the wild.”

Who can help us?

We do need help. The government plays a role in keeping us safe. Look here: they just pulled Juul (e-cigarettes) off the market because of potentially harmful chemicals leaching from the company’s refill pods. Yes, those same refill pods that are on the market at this moment and have been on the market for some time. But, better late than never, I guess. The point is harm is out there and we have to protect ourselves. The FDA doesn’t even pretend to protect us from all harm, after all nicotine itself is a bad medicine and banning it is not on the table at all. Prohibition isn’t the point. We need to have them watch out for us, but are our own advocates.

The Solution

Advertising is about influencing behavior. It’s a science as much as it is anything else. In the digital age we are up against a formidable foe. It’s like advertising on steroids.

Basically, if you’re not prepared to think — and you often are not when you’re watching television or scanning the internet or social media — you’ll pretty much accept any suggestion that is offered to you. Since you’re being so passive, you may not even realize it’s happening.

The solution is simple. It’s you, and your activity.

We must think, actively, and be more aware.

That’s the only defense. Realizing we are being targeted in new and sophisticated ways is the first step. That awareness is big. Then the other key is continuously making sure the motives that move us are our own.

I believe in you. I believe in your inherent goodness and your ability to succeed.

I am going to be there in spirit when you breakthrough to your biggest successes in the future. My bags are packed. I’m going to be there.