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Oct 28, 2021

Monetizing Privacy

By:Dylan Ratigan

Let’s talk about privacy. More specifically, let’s talk about the value of privacy. We live in a world where digital footprints follow us everywhere we go. As it turns out, those footprints have a lot of value to them. Our subconscious online habits reveal more about us than we even realize. Companies like Facebook recognize that and they’ve used it to become a nearly $900B company. Though some would argue there’s a cost to that market cap you and I are unknowingly paying.

In the TV series, Cheers, Norm would walk into the bar and before even sitting down, a beer would be waiting for him. Sam, Woody and Coach all knew what he liked to drink. There’s something to be said about a bartender or restaurant waitperson knowing what you like. However, the narrative shifts a bit when an online platform understands what we like, the types of content that evoke our most visceral responses, then uses that content to divide us while profiting.

There’s a line between knowing what you like and exploiting your vulnerabilities. When we go on Facebook and use an angry face emoji to respond to a post, we’re not necessarily asking to be fed additional related, yet more extreme content. In fact, until recently, I didn’t even know the little red face was an angry face. I thought it was a drunk guy. However, via algorithms, if we use that emoji versus simply ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ a post, a higher weight is assigned which in turns leads to more content along the same lines showing up in our feed. While there might be more content we do want to see (like funny things dogs do), the things we end up seeing are more ideologically divisive and that can have consequences. But the exploitation of privacy isn’t just being done by Facebook.

Recently, the government proposed a rule that would require banks to report on accounts with deposits or withdrawals in excess of $10,000 per year. The backdrop to this is an effort to make sure taxes aren’t being avoided. The problem with this is, the people most likely to avoid taxes aren’t people with $10,000. It’s the 1% of people with $1,000,000,000. While we absolutely need a fair tax system, this privacy intrusion feels like a miss. We don’t need data leaks, which will inevitably happen, on the income and outflows of 99% of the people in this country.

Most of us are willing to give up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for convenience. GPS directions are fantastic. In exchange; however, the companies making the GPS software know our travel habits. That’s a tradeoff most are okay with. But if that same GPS software company sold our data to a group of ideological extremists who could then buy billboards promoting further extreme views, and then loan me $10,000 to finance the purchase of a large ticket item that then sets off some sort of IRS flag, well, that’s a problem.

Written by Dylan Ratigan and Josh Fabian


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