For many of us, the data being tracked from our browsing history can be both useful at best, and a minor inconvenience at worst. Constantly having to check the “accept cookies” on a new website feels like a chore, and how many of us actually read the entire terms of our acceptance?
What actually is your data? Data, in and of itself, is simply information used to answer questions or make decisions. This can include information points you input into an online form, such as your name, address, contact details, social media posts, and credit card number. It can also include the metadata that is collected passively as you browse, such as your IP address and browsing history.
Because we live in a global capitalist economy, this data has monetary value, and is bought and sold for profit. It is sold often by the company that collects it (like Google and Facebook), not the users who generate it.
So now we have a situation in which private profit is the main motive in the data economy, most everyday people don’t understand the issue and what they are agreeing to, and there is little regulation on how data can be collected, sold, and used (especially in the US). (1)
Data misuse can have serious political consequences, such as the unauthorized use of 87 million Facebook users’ profiles by Cambridge Analytica, and safety consequences, such as Russian ad buyer (and state bank subsidiary) RuTarget’s access to personal data (potentially including location and contact details) of Google users in Ukraine. In this case, data is quite literally a weapon of war.
According to Omidyar Network (ON), the data economy doesn’t have to be this way. Not only does it not have to be exploitative, but the data economy can actually be a force for public good. Not only are they sponsoring the Future of Data Challenge for thinkers and activists to reimagine the data economy (and win funding from ON to implement their designs), they also looked to Wondros to create a narrative change strategy and film that can be used to inspire a wide audience to seek awareness about the data economy and join ON’s mission to reshape it.
To begin this project, Wondros Design Researchers needed to understand the landscape. We interviewed nine people who work to reimagine the data economy in various ways. We asked them for their own ideas, and then shared ON’s sample narratives for their reactions and feedback. As a result of this work, the Wondros team worked with ON to select, prioritize, and refine the foundational narratives for a film, as well as develop a long-term narrative change strategy.
If you are inspired to do something about the data economy, you can start by following Omidyar Network on Twitter, and also taking a close look at what data you create in the world, and who may have access to it. You can also look up your elected representatives’ stance on data privacy (and reach out to them if you find their position lacking). The more of us that understand the data economy, the more power we have to change it.
(1) Currently, the US does not have any large-scale federal legislation to ensure data protection for users. Conversely, in 2018, the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Under this law, organizations within the EU that collect and hold people’s data must use this data “in a fair and legal way,” must make data available to the individual if requested, and must inform users about what will be done with their data. In practice, this means a large box will show up on any new website you visit.
Bloomberg Law. (2022, February 2) In Brief: Data Privacy Laws by State: Comparison Charts. https://pro.bloomberglaw.com/brief/data-privacy-laws-in-the-u-s/
Chang, A. (2018, May 2) The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, explained with a simple diagram. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17151916/facebook-cambridge-analytica-trump-diagram
Citizens Information. (2021, April 14) Overview of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/data_protection/overview_of_general_data_protection_regulation.html
McCoy, O. (2020, March 31) A legislative comparison: US vs. EU on data privacy. European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance. https://edaa.eu/a-legislative-comparison-us-vs-eu-on-data-privacy/
Silverman, C. (2022, July 1) Google Allowed a Sanctioned Russian Ad Company to Harvest User Data for Months. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/google-russia-rutarget-sberbank-sanctions-ukraine