THE BLOG
10/08/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Data Mining: The Consumer Becoming the Consumed

Does it feel like someone is always watching you? Have you noticed the same ads showing up no matter where you go online? And they all try to sell you stuff that has very little to do with your actual interests?

Jason Feifer over at FastCo recently challenged Facebook to show him ads that he might actually like.

Not only do I love his take on it - I would (almost) pay to see ads of something I would actually like to buy. For instance, earlier this week the ad showing up on my Facebook page was for the Dollar Shave Club. Guess their data didn't show that I use an electric razor.

Before that I had the NRA ad show up in a couple of my searches. They could not have been more off target in their "targeted" advertising.

My issues goes beyond the lack of targeted ads I get on Facebook and search engines though.

My issue is with their intent. Many of these organizations have turned into nothing more than the 21st century's mining companies, constantly mining for the next nugget of gold. And they mine so many and so deep that eventually they are able to sell cumulative data to advertising companies as a shiny object of empty promises.

The promise: long term relationships with a faceless consumer: you and me.

First, is this the new gold rush?

What happens when they realize it was nothing but fool's gold?

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Secondly, this dramatically reduces the promise of social media to offer transparent ways for us to connect and build relationships to nothing more than data mining. The promise of connecting with my community and endless information has turned into counting the coins of each piece of data to make our lives easier.

Or so I am told.

But I suspect this might have more to do with dollars than relationships.

While they view me as a piece of data to be mined, what I experience is a lot more personal. This mining is akin to stalking and a complete lack of privacy. They find everything about me online. They follow my digital moves. They have access to my photos, videos and even know my friends. They know the places I visit and where I buy my milk.

Then they follow me.

Yet I know nothing about them.

Transparency is a two way mirror and responsible companies have embraced that as a part and parcel of what makes them responsible. That my knowledge OF them is a key element of my trust IN them. But data mining is a one-way relationship. Facebook and others can dig around our data because they know we won't follow each and every single new tweak they make to the privacy agreement. But we know little about them.

How much taxes do they pay? Do they pay a fair rate? Where do they source their energy from? Do they source all or some of their energy from clean energy sources? We get information in drips and drabs. A little bit like pulling teeth. What about key metrics on diversity among their ranks, executive pay, political contributions, community involvement and their stand on climate change - try and see if you can find it as easy as they can find the name of my favorite football (soccer) team - go Reds!

It is frustrating and a reflection of the power companies hold over us without being fully invested in forming a relationship with us. We have become what they consume.

From being the empowered consumer, we have become the consumed. Everything we do, think, type, see, snap or tweet is consumed by these companies.

This isn't engagement. This is one-way traffic. This is us being consumed.

So here is my challenge to all these companies who want to consume me through my data:

I will buy your ad if I get to know as much about you by clicking through the ad as you know about me before you place the ad in my sight. Your income, your taxes, who you do business with, who you support politically, etc.

Report on it, talk about it, tweet about it, share it with us the way we share our preferences and information. That way you have something in this game and I can see that you're truly invested in my value as an empowered and vocal consumer.

Then I become more than a consumer. I become your partner. An asset.

As I write this, I'm already losing hope. Companies are quick to protect their own mining but slow in opening their data to the public.

Yet, they wonder why trust in them is going down faster than a trolley in the mines.