SOCIETY | Apr 12, 2018

Do those who have most data win?

What are data and how far they manage to transform people from citizens to centers of consumption of goods and services

Those who have most information win: they win in the economy, in security, in journalism. They win and that’s it. It has always been like this. However, from a certain point onwards, something changed with regard to data. Let’s say since 1970, with the first industrially-produced computers. The speed of the collection of information and the quantity have changed. Collection in real time, saving and everlasting storage, unlimited quantity. For everything that concerns us. All we do is connected to a machine, to a video camera (and each of us is filmed from 200 to 400 times each day without knowing it). Everything is recorded, stored and used by politics, the economy, the army, and businesses. It is also used by our office manager who consults Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; by our neighbors, the parish priest and the marshal, by anyone who wants to know something about us.

But what are data?

What elements can be defined as data? In my opinion, everything that is collected for a purpose and that is useful for someone. Pieces of information that change based on who wants to use them, based on the purpose for which they were collected and consulted.

Let’s give some examples.

If it is the company that sells me a certain product that asks for information, it looks for my consumption habits, on how much money I spend on purchasing certain goods rather than others. It will want to know what my income is and what percentage I dedicate to consumption, which are the product sectors I go for. It will want to know if I am subscribed to some pay TV or some magazines in order to profile the quality of my consumption and so on.

If it is an entrepreneur who should hire us that asks for data about our person, before the interview he will want to have, in addition to the curriculum vitae, all political information about our social conduct, if we are unionized or politicized, if we are inclined to protest or if we willingly accept everything that happens to us.

If, instead, it is a bank that asks for information about us, it will want to know about our solvency: it will also want to know our income, if we have bankruptcy proceedings, if we have been protested by some client.

If it is our neighbor who peeks into our lives, the data he/she will look for will cover our whole life, everything that can be the subject of gossip, for example about sexual tendencies. Or any situation that could represent an opportunity for a “chat” more  or less unfounded or an insult in the event we have a row.

Data, photos, videos shared more or less consciously by the holders themselves of the information.

Naturally some personal data, such as those of an economic nature, on our sexual habits or tendencies, on political orientation and on consumption are tempting for anyone for whatever purpose. As well as biographical data that alone already constitute a source of information.

There it is, I would say the data are all those elements that contribute to having as much information as possible about us. And that we should more often ask ourselves for whom and what they are needed.

But privacy?

With regard to the amount of information we call data, when they are not yet organized for a very specific purpose, it is important to stress the role that the person has taken after the new law on privacy; it is a law which, while intending to protect us in our intimacy, has in fact liberalized the trade in data, which are sold and bought on the basis of multiple purposes. Limitless purposes.

This legislative moment has definitively codified the passage of people from citizen to “consumption center” of any good, from citizen to consumer where personal identity is dismembered and reassembled continuously, based on interests, into thousands of data.

Bernardo Angeletti