2017 and the power of data is more influential than it has ever been.

I recently watched BBC’s ‘Secrets of Silicon Valley’, and was shocked to learn the scale at which data is being used by companies for their own financial gain. The obvious being Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon…..these companies alone generated $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017 so they must be doing something right!

These global tech giants are using the information we give them to create valuable, factual data that can be sold on to other companies who will then target us, as consumers. It is claimed by Jeremy Malcolm (Analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation) that without one clause in a certain legislation these companies wouldn’t have necessarily become who they are today.

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”

This statement essentially allows any social media or other content issuer to act as the vehicle to publish this information without having any affiliation towards it, and that is how your likes of Facebook and Google have grown to be the World dominators they are today, and keep us going back for more data gathering.

The average Facebook user spends 50 minutes a day on the app!

I’m a Facebook user but was amazed to hear that the average user spends this much time on the app, this is a prime example of where they are ‘generating their oil’ rather than having to drill for it. These sites encourage us to put content on there for free in exchange for hoarding our data.

The holy grail for these companies is to try and keep us online for as long as possible and use every single like, share, poke, knowing where you are when posting, what device you are on…etc to create a persona that is like gold dust to thousands of other companies. By using such sites, we are allowing ‘Big Brother’ to let others into our lives and become targeted.

Keeping us online is paramount to the success of these online superpowers

Using personal data for marketing isn’t a new revolution, but by tracing our every move, the digital footprint we are leaving behind is allowing greater insights into our lives than you could perhaps imagine. Whether we are sat on a train on a commute to work, about to go for a run or just watching TV at home, as long as we are ‘tuned in’ we are creating more raw material for the data distilleries.

Converting data for AI / Machine Learning

By continuously feeding a pipeline of data, AI techniques such as Machine Learning can of course have some powerful benefits. Understanding when a consumer is ready to buy, when a group of people may be at risk of disease or even when a high-speed train is due for it’s ‘MOT.’ If data can be used in this way, of course this can only be a positive, right?

Data Rich

This wealth of data however, is only making the data giants richer and richer. Generating data can help to these firms to protect themselves from competition which isn’t necessarily healthy. With Google’s ability to see everything we search, Amazon everything we buy and for Facebook every single share they are able to take a much greater holistic view of their own markets. In turn, this allows them to get ahead of the curve and create, a bigger, better product before their competition does! When Facebook acquired Instagram for €1bn (pocket change) a key driver behind this was the wealth of data and insight it would provide, based on Instagram’s millions of users.   

What next then…..

Whilst I’ve only scratched the surface here on a topic that is far greater, it’s clear to me that there are obvious positive and negatives to the Data Economy we are very much submerged into. I feel however that the competition commission’s need to start tightening up on the superpowers and enforce more transparency, allowing users to understand the exact data they are holding onto and the potential gain they are making from this. At least this may give us, as consumers an opportunity to have an educated opinion on what they should or shouldn’t be holding on to.