We need digital economy where our data and our attention is not for sale to the highest-bidding authoritarian or demagogue.
Every time a social media platform is created, it is offered for free to users, because it is people’s attention and data who are the product that these companies are trying to sell. Much of the technology that threatens our freedom and our dignity in the near-term future is being developed by companies, (who are) in the business of capturing and selling our data and our attention to advertisers and others (including) Facebook, Google, Amazon. And many of these ad-finance platforms boast that they are free. In this context, we are the product that’s being sold. Think of all the data that Facebook has on you — every status update that you have ever typed, every messenger conversation, every place you logged in from, all your photographs that you uploaded there. If you start typing something, change your mind and delete it, Facebook keeps those and analyses them, too.
Increasingly it tries to match you with your offline data. It also purchases a lot of data from data brokers. It could be everything from your financial records to good junk of your browsing history. They also encourage deep surveillance on all of us so that the machine learning algorithms can work. That’s why Facebook wants to collect all the data it can about you. The algorithms work better (with more data). These algorithms may be able to detect people’s sexual orientation just from their dating profiles pictures. If people in power are using these algorithms to quietly watch us, judge us, to nudge us and to manipulate individuals one by one using their personal, individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and if they are doing it at a scale through our private screens that authoritarianism will envelop us like a spider’s web and we may not even know we are in it. We need digital economy where our data and our attention is not for sale to the highest-bidding authoritarian or demagogue.
(This transcribe is an extract from the talk presented at an official TED conference by Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish writer and techo-sociologist known for her research on the social implications of emerging technologies.)