Mark Cuban recently created "Cyber Dust" - now rivalling SnapChat - to combat the negative effects of becoming involved in the sharing economy. Cuban believes that in the future, companies and governments are going to collect data in the social media realm to develop perverse profiles of people in the future. Over the last few weeks, I kept asking myself: Is Mark Cuban just trying to get people to download his app, or is he for real? Is there really a dark side to participating in the sharing economy?
As a society, we are headed towards an algorithmic and data-driven future in which machines nudge us to make decisions. According to the Institute For the Future:
"The diffusion of sensors, communication, and processing power into everyday objects and environments will unleash an unprecedented torrent of data and the opportunity to see patterns and design systems on a scale never before possible. Every object, every interaction, everything we come into contact with will be converted into data. Once we decode the world around us and start seeing it through the lens of data, we will increasingly focus on manipulating the data to achieve desired outcomes."
Mark Cuban's worry was a legitimate one. We are no longer worrying about online cookies, but we should be worrying about the things that we post on social media and how it is being used. Facebook statuses about marriages, check-ins on FourSquare, web searches for those Jordans, and many things alike are all personal anecdotes that can be turned into data--patterns are going to be discovered and used to design desired outcomes. The latter is what Cuban believes will happen as a result of participating in the sharing economy.
Many corporations are data mining our aggregate and individual behaviors to market better to us by tracking our Internet transactions (including texts, tweets and Facebook post), emails, video, click streams, other available digital sources. Netflix used big data to create House of Cards, Merck used it to drive sales of their drug Claritin, Amazon is using big data for mass personalization, and Coca Cola used it to engineer their Simply Orange Juice. But we do not know what most companies are doing with our data.
According to Om Malik, Google-owned Waze, Moovit, and Strava is selling our online activity and behavior data to someone somewhere. In his book Think Bigger: Developing a Successful Big Data Strategy for Your Business, Mark Van Rijmenam tells us that a customer should never be the victim of a big data strategy. Privacy should be part of a company's DNA, from cashier to CEO.
"The crux of the problem--we, the citizens don't really know what these data-hoarding companies--big and small are really going to do with all the data they have about us in their databases," says Malik. "To paraphrase Peter 'Spiderman' Parker's Uncle Ben -- with big data, comes big responsibility."
In a Stanford Law Review article, the transparency, identity, and power paradoxes that stem from the rise of big data were highlighted. More importantly, the authors argued for a "technological due process" in order to create an opaque awareness of how data will be used so that it is understandable to consumers. Public trust is key.
The White House recently came out with a report titled, "Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values," which goes over the history of big data and highlights some of the negative effects. For example, the mosaic effect occurs when information alone is not identifiable but when coupled with other available information poses a privacy or security risks. With so much micro and macro information being aggregated on society by companies and government agencies, this could create a problem and revolutionize individual freedoms.
The President's Council of Advisors of Science & Technology came up with six discrete policy recommendations for protecting citizens against the ill effects of big data. For example, they recommended advancing the consumer privacy bill of rights and passing national data breach legislation.Interdisciplinary collaboration is required for us to understand how this data revolution will affect all citizens. Sara Watson - a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard - believes:
"As the public becomes more distrusting of data practices with each Snowden dispatch, how do you take advantage of the opportunities offered by data without alienating consumers? There are two keys for using data to gain a competitive advantage while minimizing the risk of consumer backlash: transparency and dialogue."
A citizen's rights to individual privacy is the sine qua non of liberty in a free society. Instead of terms of service, we need terms of trust that will not only tell us how the data is being used, but also will ensure confidence in the protection of our data. Many people were up in arms about Facebook's experiments, but, like Cuban, I am more worried about how corrupt government officials and sophisticated hackers will use the information we share online and on the cloud--everyone knows that iCloud was hacked and that the FBI became involved. Home Depot and JP Morgan Chase were also both hacked. Although I am a true believer in the democratization of ideas, thoughts, work, and personal actions, we must collectively figure out how to protect and preserve our individual rights in the sharing economy. Until then, I recommend downloading Cyber Dust.