The Edward Snowden affair has been out of the news for a few weeks, but I keep thinking about the trade-off that is being made around the use of data in the name of national security vs the use of much of that same kind data for the delivery of new services that people value. Whether you like what Snowden did or not, at least people have been talking about it. But the ability to search “metadata” about your phone calls is not so different from other kinds of information that people freely give up to be searched, whether they know it or not.
Take Facebook graph search as an example, you can find out a lot of information about people who have certain demographic characteristics who live in a specific region. All information that people have given up for free in Facebook is now searchable, unless you take active action to hide, block or remove that data. People publish their wish lists of things they want to buy on Amazon and then share them with others. The big idea is of course to provide more targeted advertising to sell you things you may actually want. The exact opposite of the kind of broadcast advertising we are so used to from big events like the Superbowl.
However, all of that information and the convenience that it potentially brings comes with a price, which is the loss of control of that data when it comes to personal privacy. Now there is a difference between private companies using this information and the government since private companies don’t have the ability to put you in jail. So their isn’t exactly an equivalency between the two. But if you give away information for the convenience of commerce, it is also out there for people to use it in manners that you also may not like.
Nevertheless, with the ability to actually analyze the petabytes of data that are now available, whether it is our phone calls, our friendship circles, our purchase patterns or the movies we watch, the discussion and debate around the tradeoff of using this information for more convenient commerce vs the use of that same information and more in the name of national security has only just begun.