Everyday Computing, Features, Technology

From Person To Product

By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant
By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

STORIES of the slave trade and people smuggling act as a repulsive reminder of past and present wrongs, where the strong prey upon the weak, the disadvantaged, and the uninformed. It is a subject that invokes strong feelings of misdeeds, of turning a person into a product, for the consumption and economic benefit of another.

When you use ICT, do you think about this historical imbalance? Do you give up any liberties in exchange for ICT products and services? You may be surprised to discover that this viewpoint is not as abstract as you might first believe. It happens regularly. When you perform an online search using your favourite search engine, do you care how that free facility was made available to you?

The search providers have to bear substantial costs in providing that service, for example:
* Maintaining the website to process your queries;
* Indexing the world wide web in anticipation of your search;
* Building the data centres to house the enormous volumes of data;
* Paying for the electrical power to operate server farms;
* Managing the human resource and engineering staff to run the business.

In the brief time it takes you to get a relevant short-list of search results, the search engine has done lots of work without you paying a penny. Meanwhile, the search-engine provider has to pay the bills and other overheads. How do they do it? They turn you into the product. You are the thing, the product, that another party is interested in.

The same process happens when you use social media applications. While you are busy posting the latest pictures and status updates, the social-media provider has to pay the up-front costs to provide you with a “free” service.

You become the product when using these services, because you supply something of interest to the provider: your personal information, habits, and interests. Advertisers will pay to access the data points that are represented by your personal profile. The more detailed, the better!

Here are some other things that are useful to define you and your cohort:
* Your like and dislikes;
* Your educational background;
* You current location;
* Your musical tastes.

Who cares where you went to school all these years ago, or that you have watched the movie “Pulp Fiction” or that you listen to calypso music? Who needs to remind you to record some long-forgotten aspects of your personal history and interests? Simple! It is he who pays the piper, the advertisers.

Think about this the next time you use your favourite social media service, and be sure to “like” this article to show your full appreciation!

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