We know that our data isn’t just a reflection of what we do on the internet; it’s a direct result of our thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives as unique individuals. So when we are caught in the power struggle between governments and big tech companies, how can we position ourselves to respond appropriately? Is it possible to take control of our own data?
Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby discuss plenty of heavy-hitting issues in this episode. Aside from the possibility of an Orwellian future, brought about by the Chinese government’s efforts to surveil and assign social credits to all their citizens, they also discuss the government’s attempt to control big tech companies.
China aims to be a leader in harnessing big data. The Social Credit System, which was first conceptualized in 2014, is definitely a development that we need to keep a wary eye on. However, it’s still got a long way to go. While there is a lot of information being collected, the government remains challenged to unify efforts being made across the country and centralize information.
But once the government does get the hang of the credit system, the future looks pretty bleak. What’s it like to live in a society where you are so heavily surveilled and regulated, you eventually start to change the way you think and act? It’s probably going to be like slowly boiling a frog in a pot filled with water—you won’t know you’re dead meat until it’s too late.
TARTLE campaigns for government and corporate transparency, and human rights. We believe in a world where the individual is empowered to make their own decisions, take their own actions, and hold their own data. This is not possible in a society where the government is making an effort to farm our personal information to control our words, thoughts, and actions.
As individuals, we find ourselves caught in a power struggle between big tech companies and the government. One seeks to commodify us, and the other seeks to control us. It is amidst this struggle that we, more than ever, need to reclaim our data for ourselves.
The controversial Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) discussed by Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby on this episode was just recently passed and enforced last November 1, 2021. While the title makes it sound like a noble act, the duo discussed how this law is the latest attempt in China’s efforts to rein in the growth of its tech giants.
Its effect on data in the country is a double-edged sword. It does stop unauthorized data trading and theft— but it also caters to the national government’s vested interests. Tech companies from overseas that cannot fulfill the PIPL are in danger of being blacklisted. This bans them from processing Chinese personal data.
In fact, the implications of operating under China’s PIPL have already scared away tech companies. Yahoo shut down its last few services in the country after the law was passed, citing in a statement to BBC that their decision was because of the “increasingly challenging business and legal environment” in the country. Linkedin also pulled out of China for similar reasons a month before the PIPL went live.
It’s difficult to say for certain if we remain in full control of our thoughts and actions in a world where we are constantly being sent subliminal messages—where we are both pawns and subjects in the power struggles of bigger entities.
The people on the ground need platforms that function as safe spaces for them to practice taking ownership over their own data. We have become so accustomed to having other entities handle our information that the idea of profiting from our personal data seems so foreign. However, it is possible—and it’s a future we want to build here at TARTLE.
TARTLE’s mission is to make the answer to that issue a bit clearer and in our favor. We deserve to have the tools and skills that will help empower us and our data. It is our vision to have a world where our personal information benefits ourselves, and not big tech nor the government.
What’s your data worth?
Data and Navigating the Unexpected
COVID came out of nowhere and upset the balance of pretty much everything. Back in February of 2019 things were proceeding normally, more or less. Then, countries around the world started locking down, one after the other. All of a sudden, people went from normal lives to in many cases not being allowed to leave their homes except to buy groceries once a week. While it never got that extreme in the United States, many businesses were curtailed, especially restaurants, theaters, and any other place where people would gather. That in turn had a significant effect on their suppliers. The net result has been a major shift in the global economy, the full effects of which likely won’t become fully apparent for years.
It’s no surprise that many businesses haven’t survived the turmoil. Tens of thousands have shut their doors for good. What is surprising is the number of businesses that have survived so far and those that have managed to thrive despite the unique circumstances that have been thrown at them. Those are businesses run by people who either already understood the importance of data or quickly learned to appreciate it. They were able to use technology and data to adapt to radically different circumstances.
Whether it be the restaurant that offered curbside pickup or outdoor seating, or the art instructor that added participation through Zoom as an option they’ve managed to turn those adverse circumstances into an opportunity.
Bigger businesses have naturally gotten involved as well. So much so that the executive position of Chief Data Officer (CDO) is becoming increasingly common. These executives have a difficult job not just in terms of organizing the acquisition and analysis of data but also in justifying the return on investment (ROI) that comes from all of that data. That last bit can of course be the most difficult because the benefits of all of that data are sometimes hard to quantify. Indeed, if not managed properly, there won’t actually be any benefits. How to navigate that particular minefield? The CDO of course needs to be able to show how the reach of their efforts is often greater than what is obvious. One successful interaction can lead to many more and it is the job of the CDO to make sure that the extended reach can be shown, to acquire that data and process it into a format that the other executives can readily grasp.
This is where issues often arise. Responding to the pressure that comes with that position can lead CDOs or whoever is in charge of the data to be tempted to get as much as they can, however they can. That can lead to all kinds of ethical issues in acquiring that data. We’ve seen a number of examples of that in this space over the last few months and there are many others. People are often tricked into giving up their data unwittingly or in other cases it’s just taken outright with no chance whatsoever for the individual to provide consent. It’s a kind of digital theft and it is a major problem for people’s rights around the world.
What should they do then? One option that we would obviously like to propose is that they sign up on TARTLE as a buyer. That way these businesses, large or small can connect directly with individuals who are using or might use their products and services. Then the CDO can be sure that they are getting their information with the consent of people which in turn ensures that it is more accurate than anything else that could be gathered through any other method. TARTLE also allows buyers access to something that no algorithm can possibly touch, the why. Why do people do the things they do? Why does one marketing campaign work while another doesn’t? Yes, we know companies learn these things through focus groups. But how much time does that take? Wouldn’t you rather get your information faster, almost in real time? I know I would. That’s what TARTLE offers, accurate, near real-time data that is gathered with the full consent of the individual. That’s a much better world, one that is responsive and honest.
What’s your data worth?