Blog of Sara Jakša

The Two Factors that Made Collecting Personal Data so Prevalent

I see the outcry for the privacy is some part of my social circle (or I could be living in a bubble, that just happens to include some radicalism, which could be on either side). But instead of seeing it as something that we need to fight, I more seeing as a symptom of something else. And just like with illnesses, if we don't like the symptoms, we can try and heal ourselves. In some cases, solving the symptoms is enough, as the body, or in the other case, the society, would clean the illness by itself. In some cases, there needs to be an active way to address the underlying causes as well.

I think there are at least two factors that made the collection of the personal data so prevalent. The first is discrimination and the second is trying to get everything for free.

Let me start with the discrimination. I don't think that the discrimination by itself is bad. We do it all the time, sometimes at the level of the groups and sometimes at the level of the individual. As we have limited time and energy, this kind of discrimination is necessary. Even I don't treat my family the same way as I treat my classmates or people that I have never met. And I have yet to meet a person that would treat everybody the same.

And the discrimination criteria can be completely arbitrarily. It could be against religion, it could be against eating habits or it could be based on personal experience. I sadly have the good memory for unsolved disputes, so I am not a good person for people that just want to forget that it ever happened. I actually want to discuss it, until I am sure that I know the reason why it happened and that it will never happen again. And I am aware that some people find it annoying and they discriminate against me.

Which is good, as we are not a good fit for one another.

But this discrimination also happens on the market. I have seems small companies that discriminate against the whole group of customers. If it is in USA and they discriminate against LGBT, then it is usually in the media. But there is discrimination against countries, specific customers,... And it is not always because of the profit maximization. I know at least one CEO, who does not deal with customers from his own country because he does not want to waste energy with idiots.

And even in this level I find the discrimination still fine. Why? Because every person has the right to choose their own social cycle. Since people, especially adults that already finished their education, mostly hang around people they know through work, the decision with whom to do the work can have serious consequences on whom they spend time with.

Sure, some people, especially people that are in the marketing, have realized this and have used the data that they have collected about the customers to segregate them in the different groups. I remember, when I went to one of the business conferences (my mother did not have the time). The first lecture was about how to put the customers into three groups, ignore the lower group and spend an extraordinary time with the upper group. Since people attending there were mostly from small to middle sized companies, they mostly likely decided to go with a bit of a crude measure.

In quite a lot of book that I have read about business development when I was younger, they recommend that the people selling or the companies fire the unproductive leads and spend their time with the 20% of their best customers. So let me make this clear, this kind of discrimination existed even before there was a huge networked collection of data. In that time it was based on more limited data, but otherwise it was basically the same.

So now these people, that were used to segregating the people and not spending time with the worst customers and spending more energy on the best ones, got access to huge amount of data that the internet is producing. I remember that I did not find it surprising when I found out that companies have been buying the data from other businesses. Based on the practices that existed before that, this was a natural progression.

The second reason is the practice of making everything on the internet free. People, including me, have come to expect that everything we find on the internet is going to be free. The problem is that having a presence on the internet and hosting files on the internet is not free. I have a basic hosting, with no ability to use databases, so my hosting is pretty cheap, but I still pay 50EUR/year for this site. Even if a person has a additional computer and change it into a server in their home, they still need to pay for the electricity for this computer.

People spend a lot of time, energy and money to make the internet the way it is. And because the people don't want to pay for it, they need to find another way to do it. One way, that people used was advertising, but I remember reading an article around 2 years ago, that the trend of using add-blocker was rising. I am using one myself. So what is left? Well, there seems to be companies, which will give money for the users data - problem solved. There was a wish to be repaid for their work, and there was a need that could be filled with this work.

I don't claim that everybody does it for the money. I am just saying, that when given a choice, a lot of people will take that money.

And this brings it up the full cycle. The people that used data to segregate people now have the ability to collect even more data and they could get it from people hosting free services, as for them it was the easiest source of income.

Are we then still asking ourselves why we are in the current situation?