Do you feel like the government is watching your every move? Do you feel that all of your private text messages are being read
by a stranger? Do you feel like all your files on your computer are currently being transferred by a hacker on the other side of the screen? Do you feel like your digital life is an open window that you just cannot seem to close? Living in the 21st century, a lot of people will feel like their privacy is being intruded by strangers, hackers, and the government, and they will feel helpless about the situation. But in truth, all these data-collecting tools are actually making our lives better, easier, more convenient, and safer to an extent that might not have even crossed you mind! Technology is innovating, and our lives improving is a result of it. If we collect data, our lives will improve in so many different ways. From progressing in things like innovation all the way to safety, collecting data is the key to moving forwards in this advancing world.
Without innovation, we probably would still be wearing animal skin and fur as our clothes, living in a cave, and have a stone in our pocket as a phone. Innovation keeps improving our lives every day, and to be able to start the process of innovating something, data needs to be collected. That data can be collected, but the job for that lies in our hands.
Take the iPhone as an example. When setting your iPhone up, Apple gives you an option if you would allow them to collect information about how well your phone is functioning, so they can take that data to further develop this piece of technology to meet our needs. Quoting Andrew Hutchinson’s article, “Convenience Vs Privacy: The Latest Study in the Data Tracking Debate”, he says, “We’re often happy to give up our data, so long as we have the option of actually giving it up, but we don’t like it being taken from us.”
This statement was concluded from a survey conducted at the Annenberg School for Communication, where 55% of the respondents disagreed with: “It is fine for a store that I go to uses information about me, to then create a picture of me that will then improve their services provided for me”. But when given the statement: “If companies give me a discount, they can then collect information about me without my knowledge”, 91% of respondents disagreed. The drastic change in these statistics prove that the public feels cautious about not having a choice, and that does not necessarily mean they have a problem with giving up their data.
When we go back to our iPhone scenario, Apple does not take your information away without you knowing. They clearly give us a choice about whether we would rather keep our data to ourselves, or if we are willing to give up constructive information as fuel to feed innovation. Whatever your decision may be, our personal information is not being collected. Privacy “still exists”, and more importantly, we still are able to have choices to choose from.
When Apple is collecting your mobile device’s data, statistics showing how well applications are running will transfer from your phone to a database, and the data will be completely anonymous. A new iPhone can then be made to suit what we like best, and it shows how we have made things even better than before. To keep innovating, to keep improving things we use from day to day, requires data, and we can provide that, without the worry of risking our private information. In just 30 years, we were able to go from a building-sized mainframe computer to the internet taking off globally (TED-Ed, 2013)!
Innovation has brought us so far, and gathering data can push us to go even further. Pushing us further in which direction? Well, making our lives more convenient is one way.
What if you lived in the world of 50 years ago? If you wanted to communicate with your friend that lives all the way across the world, you would have to deliver a letter to their mailbox. That would take a long time already, and then for them to reply back would take even longer. In the 21st Century, we now have convenient little devices that fit into our pockets, where you can communicate with anyone at any time, and get a response almost instantaneously.
Advancements like social networks allow us to communicate and collaborate with others like we have never before, making things so much easier for us. Because we have collected data in the past, things are so convenient for us today. If we continue with big data, we will be able to make things even more convenient for us, and the result will be our lives and others’ getting better, easier, and more comfortable.
For instance, Google has been developing more and more services to make our lives simpler for us, such as Google Lens, Google News, Google Maps, Google Assistant, etc. Google Lens allows you to capture an image of something, and immediately, you have all the information from Google on that specific object. In Nitasha Tiku’s article “The Price of Google’s New Conveniences? Your Data”, she describes how Google Lens works.
“Take Google Lens, a visual search tool that ‘proactively’ surfaces information about the objects around you,” Tiku’s review reads. This tool allows you to directly have access to the information about something, just like the information you would have access to in a Google search, but the process is much easier and more convenient. These latest Google conveniences revolve around “understanding our habits”, but in order for these creations to continue to be developed, Google has to be able to “mine our data”.
We have all these sensational resources right at our fingertips, and they are the small stepping stones that we need to start walking on for us to not only see more, but to see better and different (TED, 2014). Big data is an important tool we need to learn how to use in order for our society to advance. Aside from just advancing our lives to be more comfortable, big data can also advance our lives to be safer.
Your health and safety is always top priority. If you had a broken leg, you would not be able to do the things you can usually do on a regular basis. And because we are living in a world where technology is so advanced, tools like the Smarthome is able to help us maintain our health and safety.
The Smarthome is a house “incorporated” with technology, and it was created by Tsutomu Shimizu, with the word “health” in his mind as he tries to change people’s lives in the future with this advancement. In an interview, Shimizu states that, “Now the technology of sensor has developed so we can collect data of each individual.” The outcome of these sensor advancements is that if you get sick or injured, the Smarthome is able to research about the causes of illness or injury. And “by utilizing the data”, we can further develop technology for people’s health and safety in the future (The Guardian, 2016).
But not only can technology in the 21st century keep you safe by researching the cause of illnesses, it can also keep you safe in extreme ways that might not have crossed your mind before. For example, in China, facial recognition is something people use on a regular basis, whether it is to access the building of their workplace, log into an online account of some sort, use an ATM, or even get food recommendations from KFC. But other than these day-to-day uses, the government makes use of facial recognition to improve our safety (Wall Street Journal, 2017).
John Sudworth, a BBC correspondent, visited Guiyang. He and the Guiyang police conducted an experiment involving how the government can use security cameras to find people. He went out into the city to see how long the police could track him down, and then get to him. The exercise took them only 7 minutes. After 7 quick minutes, a few policemen had already surrounded John. Surveillance cameras are a great tool to look for missing people, or persons of interest, but the government would not use it on people who do not need any help. Xu Yan, a Guiyang policewoman said that, “For ordinary people, we will only extract their data when they need our help.” Otherwise, the police just store our information in their database.
This experiment just shows that if, for example, someone was missing, the government will be able to find them very quickly and easily. Not only can surveillance cameras do that, it can also scan crowds for persons of interest, or people that may pose a threat to our community.
Another smaller way facial recognition is improving our safety, is shaming jaywalkers, in hopes that they would follow the traffic lights. Facial recognition is clearly improving our safety every day, and we should allow our lives to “flow along with these advancements.” If you had the opportunity to be safer, would you pass, or take it?
There is no doubt that the advancement of technology is rocketing through the sky recently, and innovations from facial recognition to the new and sophisticated Google services can all prove that. But like everything else, nothing is ever completely on one side of the spectrum, whether it is something good, or bad.
Ji Feng, a Chinese government critic and a poet, thinks that no matter what you do, you will always hesitate to act because there is always someone watching your every move. He claims that the authorities view the community as a threat, and with these new tools, the government’s surveillance on dissidents will intensify. With surveillance cameras installed everywhere in China, there will always be a certain level of discomfort (BBC News, 2017).
Furthermore, beyond the CCTV cameras and within all the other advancements in technology, keep in mind that there is always a possibility of being hacked. In a documentary film published by The Guardian, “The Power of Privacy – documentary film”, they have demonstrated how anyone is able to access all the information you willingly put online, from a picture you just posted on your Instagram feed, all the way to your credit card numbers because you did an online registration.
You could easily get hacked with just a click on a link, and all your files on a device could be collected without your knowledge. But not only can your computer get hacked, big companies’ systems could always get tricked or hacked (The Guardian, 2016).
However, all these points have flaws in them, and believe it or not, hacking does have a positive side to it. Hacking can expose corporate vulnerabilities, and it can shed light on flaws that companies can then improve from. If you are worried about the government invading your privacy, then you should not be. The purposes of surveillance cameras are to keep people safe, and to look out for people of interest. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
The positive results of our information that is beneficial to the government being collected, far outweigh the negatives, and we can already do so much that we could not do before because of big data. Imagine what we could do if we continued to build upon what we have now. Imagine everything that we could achieve. Why stop now?
Although we should accept our data-collection “learning process”, we should also brace ourselves when “failures” in the learning process becomes an issue. Companies like Facebook is already constantly working to improve the level of protection of their users’ privacy, so people can feel more secure about these problems.
While these big corporations are further developing their digital security systems, you can also know more about data collectors yourself. Programs like Disconnect can let you see which companies and corporations have access to your data when you are on a specific website, and you can “disconnect”, so they would not have access to your data anymore. All these things are to help you feel safer around big data, and you also are able to choose whether or not you would like to give up your data, and how much of it. When people have that choice, we can still continue our process of big data, but you can also feel satisfied with your safety and privacy. We should keep innovating these tools to help us. Technology is a benefit we can enjoy in our lives, and we should be able to enjoy it in the future as well.
“Sometimes we need to sacrifice convenience for our safety.” But because technology is already everywhere, the tools of technology will be what brings more safety than we already have right now. Data can be used to learn, remember, improve, and innovate. There is so much “potential” in big data that we can use to improve our lives and the world, if only we will allow it to. So, the question is, will you?
BBC News. “China: ‘the World’s Biggest Camera Surveillance Network’ – BBC News.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Dec. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNf4-d6fDoY.
Hutchinson, Andrew. “Convenience Vs Privacy: The Latest Study in the Data Tracking Debate.” Social Media Today, 5 June 2015, www.socialmediatoday.com/technology-data/adhutchinson/2015-06-05/convenience-vs-privacy-latest-study-data-tracking-debate.
TED-Ed. “Big Data – Tim Smith.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 May 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-0cUmUyb-Y.
TED. “Kenneth Cukier: Big Data Is Better Data.” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Sept. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pHzROP1D-w.
The Guardian. “The Power of Privacy – Documentary Film.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Jan. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGX-c5BJNFk.
Tiku, Nitasha. “The Price of Google’s New Conveniences? Your Data.” Wired, Conde Nast, 8 May 2018, 9:00 PM, www.wired.com/story/the-price-of-googles-new-conveniences-your-data/.
Wall Street Journal. “Next-Level Surveillance: China Embraces Facial Recognition.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq1SEqNT-7c.
Wolf, Gary. “The Quantified Self.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, June 2010, www.ted.com/talks/gary_wolf_the_quantified_self#t-291434