Google’s Latest Plan to Sell Your Data Will Leave you FURIOUS
Giving our behavioral data to companies with this grand a scope will likely never be completely safe, but this is beyond reproach.
One of the most invasive and unnerving realizations
that we must face in our new technological age is the fact that we are very literally being mined by the products that we use.
There is a great deal of convenience in the internet. We can use it to travel around our city on even the busiest of days with ease. We can order any number of dishes from any number of restaurants. Heck, we can even rent an electric scooter to ride around town, leaving it where we like when we’re finished. But, as the wise have always told us, nothing in this life is free. Sure, we pay for these services, and we pay to have access to the internet, but that’s not nearly all of the value that is being taken from us by the corporations whom we trust online.
Google, Facebook, and others have long been selling our online behavioral data to advertisers, in order for those advertisers to then weaponize their work in the most effective ways. Google is literally telling Dupont and these other enormous chemical companies, what time of day is best for them to run laundry detergent commercials in order to maximize their weaseling into our pockets. Worse still; this game is played at such a high level that only Holy Rollers need apply for a seat. That means that you and I are simply pawns in the game. Has that stopped forward-facing companies like Google from continuing this habitual debauchery? Of course not.
And it’s getting worse.
MOST OF THE data collected by urban planners is messy, complex, and difficult to represent. It looks nothing like the smooth graphs and clean charts of city life in urban simulator games like “SimCity.” A new initiative from Sidewalk Labs, the city-building subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has set out to change that.
The program, known as Replica, offers planning agencies the ability to model an entire city’s patterns of movement. Like “SimCity,” Replica’s “user-friendly” tool deploys statistical simulations to give a comprehensive view of how, when, and where people travel in urban areas. It’s an appealing prospect for planners making critical decisions about transportation and land use. In recent months, transportation authorities in Kansas City, Portland, and the Chicago area have signed up to glean its insights. The only catch: They’re not completely sure where the data is coming from.
This “appealing prospect” sounds a lot more like data harvesting for the sake of targeting us with more advertisements.
To make these measurements, the program gathers and de-identifies the location of cellphone users, which it obtains from unspecified third-party vendors. It then models this anonymized data in simulations — creating a synthetic population that faithfully replicates a city’s real-world patterns but that “obscures the real-world travel habits of individual people,” as Bowden told The Intercept.
The program comes at a time of growing unease with how tech companies use and share our personal data — and raises new questions about Google’s encroachment on the physical world.
Concerns over the use of this GPS data are obvious enough to understand, but a fun analogy awaits you anyway: Let’s say that Amazon puts a new Whole Foods store in your town, and Google isn’t happy about it for whatever reason. Google has the power to reroute traffic to the area near that store to make it an unappealing commute. Eventually, people will stop coming. Or, even crazier, if Google decided they didn’t want the location to even show up in their Maps app. You could be literally lost, confused, and impaired while driving. Giving our behavioral data to companies with this grand a scope will likely never be completely safe, but this is beyond reproach.
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Andrew West is an Atlanta-based author who enjoys his pursuit of happiness to the fullest, whether it be craft beer, the great outdoors, or playing music.