Who's Gonna Save your e-Soul?

Who's Gonna Save your e-Soul?

When we do things digitally, we leave behind us a sparkling trail of data. Supermarkets record our sales, credit cards record our purchases, our GPS records our travel, airlines record the cities we visit, bankers record our transactions, Google and Bing record our searches, doctors record our visits, and our internet provider and email service keep records of everything we send and receive.

All these records are valuable for different reasons and to different people. They are used to target advertising at us, to adjust the prices we pay up or down if we buy things on-line, to decide whether to give or refuse a loan, and to track if we are perceived as a threat to some political interest.

Put all this information together and it forms our e-Soul, an invisible, amorphous, permanent, complete record of who we are and what we’ve done, good things and bad.

All this knowledge and information about us are subject to two pulls: centralization and democratization.

The Centralizers are people you don’t know, especially people who care a lot about money and power, who realize your e-Soul is valuable, and want to own it. They include outfits like Google, Facebook, your bank and the NSA. Their motto could be, “I know everything about you, you don’t know anything about me”.

The Democratizers are people who give away information and don’t bother to keep track of who is using it, for what. They include on-line schools and resources like Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and MIT and Berkeley, two institutions that are putting all their information and class lectures (!) on line, for free. Their motto could be, “Knowledge spreads and the more people who get it, the better”.

The Centralizers have mastered monetizing information, so they generally are rich, and rich people usually get to control the agenda. As we start to collect more and more information about savings groups, let’s keep our eyes open to what happens to that information. When you hear people talk about “monetizing data”, ask who is monetizing it. There is something creepy about data centralizers moving in on Savings Groups, where information has traditionally been democratized. 



Paul, it is not only creepy, it is dangerous. Those brave democratizers of information who have risked everything include Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Osange(with some qualifiers). Some paid the ultimate price, as Aaron Schwartz, threatened with a 30 year sentence, taking his own life, Barnaby Jack dead in unexplained circumstances is in Nob Hill apartment, Michael Hastings dead in an unexplained car accident, and Barrett Brown with a 105 year sentence. Creepy doesn't cover it.

Mon, August 11, 2014 | Patrice Beck

Nice post. The data trail is not so shimmering when it comes to egregious humanitarian situations. At the moment, the response of the Sri Lankan government vis-a-vis the pinpointing of data on internally displaced populations (largely Tamil) is taking the stage. The government is being accused of taking data posted about make-shift shelter hospitals and turning them into bomb targets (within 30 minutes of the data being posted). Naive researchers are posting data online without understanding how it can harm vulnerable populations.

Tue, August 12, 2014 | Kim Wilson

Thanks Patty and Kim for those good reminders. Yes - most data centralizers only want to use their cleverness to get richer at the expense of the less clever or less avaricious. But others have more sinister ambitions.

Tue, August 12, 2014 | Paul Rippey

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