“We have been enslaved by the data-business” A phrase I used for the first time in March 2016. At that time I was graduating as a graphic designer from the ArtEZ Institute of Arts, in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Never could I have expected that three years later, this phase completely dominates my practice as a designer.
When entering a website, the first thing you do is click ‘agree’ on the cookies and privacy statement. Long, dry and legal text nobody reads. But mainly with that one click, you are accepting more and just one agreement. www.dailymail.co.uk, for example, is positioned in a so-called ‘trusted-third-party hosting network.’ Meaning if you click 'agree' you agree with all policies in their network. In this case resulting, through that one click, you agree with 835 privacy policies. You're left in the dark when it comes to who owns your data. You are in no position of control.
Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon gain revenue out of the data you produce when using their service. Either by selling information to other parties or to analyze and learn about behavior, for personalizing content. In 2018, Google stroke a profit of $116.32 billion by selling targeted advertisements. The old statement “knowledge is power” might be overused, but it is more accurate than ever. Information is becoming one of the most valuable assets in our society. Meaning the one controlling it will become the most powerful one.
It’s a shame that the main focus on data is at the commercial aspect. Data also means
opportunities to improve healthcare, infrastructure, education, sustainability, security, leisure, and much more. The Internet is a new era, and we are just exploring its possibilities.
Companies who discovered the financial benefits in an early stage are now dominating the world economy — a concerning development. We have to look beyond advertising models, and change our sense of privacy to see the full benefits of a data-driven society.
After a period of scandals like Cambridge Analytics, data leaks, and whistleblowers, the topic has been critically examined by media. A desirable development cause it shows the urge of the situation. But it also created primary negative imaging on the subject. Most people only got in contact with these matters due to new reports about ‘government is spying on you,’ ‘search three times for bomb and the FBI knocks on your door’ and ‘companies are controlling your brain.’
Majority of people are still using these services, although they know their privacy might be in jeopardy, cause there isn’t offered so much of a fair option here. Online searching, ordering, streaming and communicating became an extension of life. The internet is about being easy, user-friendly and efficient. There are alternatives to avoid tech-giants, but mainly these are time-consuming, less of quality, excluded from services your friends are using and not accessible (or even visible) for regular internet users. Also, there is a big gap between how people think- and act when it comes to privacy.
Ownership of your data shouldn’t be a choice, privilege or labor-intensive activity. The
infrastructure of the internet and the technology that is connected should be designed in a
way that only allows people to control their information. May 25th, 2018, the General Data
Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect. The legislation, developed to more strictly
monitor companies on data use, raised the tendency to think that the problem is now 'fixed'.
But this issue is way more fundamental than a law about what companies may and may not do. For instance: GDPR gives you the right to be forgotten and data portability. But how can you apply to be forgotten, if you can’t figure out (due to trusted-third-party hosting networks) where your data are located?
This year, we celebrate 25 years of the World Wide Web. A system that at first has been invented for communication and sharing knowledge. Companies like Amazon and eBay started selling things like books, retail, and electronics online. But who could have foreseen that not the products they where offering but the information, the knowledge that is communicated, would become their most essential product?
The knowledge in your data isn't just one-on-one information. Netflix, for example, knows way more than what kind of movies you like and series you binge-watch. When you press pause, algorithms start calculating why: bathroom? Snack-break? Are you opening another browser? Calling a friend? Answering an email? Do you find it too scary? Boring? Or are you getting intimate with your partner, or yourself? Way deeper layers of who you are, then if you prefer romcoms over horror movies.
We are increasing our connectivity with platforms, smart technologies, and devices. Meaning the amount of data we produce is ballooning, and so are the details and intimacy in this information. When we don’t seriously start controlling who owns these data, tech-giants will expand their power and monopolized position. Netflix started as a platform that made all types of entertainment accessible and cheap to watch. Currently, it’s spending less than 15% of its income on licensing content, and almost 85% on creating their own. Netflix's own content is viral, due to data analyzes. They know exactly how people consume entertainment: how many times you scroll over a title before you watch it, after how many episodes you're hooked to a show, and after what number of minutes something must happen to hold your attention. Lately, it’s often said that Google knows you better than you know yourself. Netflix might know you better than you thought there was to be known about you.
Considering these developments, the ownership rights of data are vital. We have to think beyond symptom management and radically change the way data are stored and shared. The Internet's infrastructure currently supports that your activities on a website automatically are stored on their server. Imagine a new infrastructure, designed in a way that all information you produce, is stored on your server. Data should become something that companies don’t want to own but may access with valid consent.
Over the past years, I’ve been investigating in these systems and especially the economic value of information. One thing became evident to me: I’m not a customer of Amazon, nor a user of Facebook. I am their product. My online behavior, preferences, habits, desires, and contacts are the ingredients that define my price. To measure how much I’m worth as a product, I created a system called ‘data stocks’ inspired by the stock exchange. You will be your own stock, and all types of data you produce are the shares — the value of every share resolute from your behavior in the system I created to calculate these.
Knowledge and understanding of data economy are essential, to make steps towards a well- regulated data-driven society. To share my research, thought and observations on this, I created The Attention Fair. An experimental installation where the audience learns about this through a variety of games, experiments, and visuals. For example, a card game in which you have to gather online behavior patterns, a gambling game where your data is the revenue, a display of ‘products’ that are for sale, an experiment about inflation and deflation on the value of the behavior, a visual language for privacy policies and some more.
Whether or not it will be the best solution to start selling our own information, the production of data is labor. Labor that is becoming more intensive and frequent. Currently, the profit of that labor isn’t yours. You have been enslaved by the data-business.
With awareness about the opportunities of how data can improve your life and our society in combination with the regulations to protect how to share these wisely and a technology that supports new systems: You will be the one in control. You shouldn't be forced to accept policies, but being the one who creates them. You should be the owner of your data. You are the product of your own information.
Join the campaign :i:am the product of my own information