Big data: When we moved from being the customers into being the product.

Trycolyn Pikirayi Avatar
Two men holding phones, on social media

During the Competition and Tariffs Commission event that happened last week, we touched a little on internet privacy, something that’s been of concern to the people who use the internet much.

There’s always a different angle to it, for example I remember discussing issues around privacy versus security at the AfricaCom event. Here, we were mostly looking at the trade-off that one has to make between being secure and maintain their privacy. Talk of examples like surveillance cameras or the concept of password managers though the latter can be argued against using the end-to-end encryption technology.

Anyway, it’s always interesting to know from people how important their online privacy is to them. I know we briefly looked at this when we wrote on how Google had been busted for collecting location data from Android users without their consent. Of course we know it’s not just Google collecting data but basically tech giants such as Facebook and Apple are doing it, just in different ways.

Big data is big bucks that’s for sure. Remember how these companies have pledged to knowing you more than you know yourself? Well, that sounds cool but do you really think this would be possible without you sharing with them some personal data (with or without your consent)? Did you really think that it’s just those Facebook statuses and picture uploads that can make Facebook know you better than you know yourself?

It is time we got to appreciate the fact that: hey, we have moved from being the consumers here to being the product. If you consider the business models that these tech companies use you’ll realise how much of essence data is to them.

So with online content, you can either make money through subscriptions or through advertising. Quick question, have you ever been prompted by Google or Facebook etc to pay to access their service? Answer is no, why? That’s because their business models are not subscription based, they’re ‘free’ to access for users. Therefore, how do they make money? Through advertisements. But advertising online is more complicated than just throwing ads at people.

For example, in 2016, Facebook generated a total revenue of US$27.64 billion. Now try to imagine how many adverts that translates to or better yet imagine them being on the site; that would really be some level of spam and to be honest, a great majority of us would not be using Facebook by now. So basically what Facebook does is target specific ads to a specific niche.

But how do you know what niche which ad should go to and most importantly who makes up that niche??? The answer is simple, through data. Users’ personal data is gold. When data is well analysed it reveals trends, patterns, preferences etc. Not only does this data reveal the trends of individuals, but it does so for groups as well – groups  classified by age, sex, geography and the list goes on…

Because this type of advertising is obviously more efficient than blindly spraying ads on sites, advertisers are almost always willing to use it instead of the traditional ways of advertising, not to mention how the world has become digital. Therefore, it is because of this high demand by advertisers that tech companies are faced with the insatiable hunger for data – the very same reason why they end up either tricking or manipulating you into giving them your data.

However, most of us do not even realise how much data we have given away to these companies  just by merely ‘documenting’ it on these online platforms. It all just seems convenient so much that we’re really not too keen to question the hows of it all.

It is with this realisation and several testimonies (these amongst others) that I’ve come to conclude that, in as much as I hate to break it to you but there is no such thing as privacy on the internet! After all, you are just but a product…


One response

  1. Van Lee Chigwada

    We were never the consumers or the customers. We’ve always been the product. From the day Google monetized their search engine, and same with Facebook.

    Google’s privacy policy ruling came over 4 years ago, in 2013. And yes, the case was dismissed. Google won.

    The ruling being – Dont wanna give up your info? Stop using Google.

    How is this article only getting penned today, 4 years after the fact, Techzim?

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