Reasons why your data does not belong to you

Photo by Maya Flores, Student Publications

Last Thursday on Jan. 28 Apple CEO Tim Cook caused a bit of a stir in Big Tech. While streaming live his keynote speech for the Computers, Privacy & Data Protection conference in Brussels, Cook sought to differentiate Apple from other Big Tech companies, and without naming names, primarily Facebook.

Early on in the address Cook said: “The fact is that an interconnected ecosystem of companies and data brokers, of purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division, of trackers and hucksters just looking to make a quick buck, is more present in our lives than it has ever been.

And it has never been so clear how it degrades our fundamental right to privacy first, and our social fabric by consequence.”

The purpose of this address was to highlight Apple’s newest technology being released in the next beta iOS update, App Tracking Transparency.

ATT will force iPhone users to explicitly allow or deny third party apps the ability to track them for advertising purposes.

Apple’s hope is that ATT will allow users to block apps like Facebook, Snapchat and Google Maps from creating user profiles and tying collected data back to individuals.

All of this is mostly used to create targeted ads — something that Cook believes to be abhorrent.

Cook dramatically defended his point of view in the keynote: “As I’ve said before, if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.”

With the advent of ATT and Cook’s keynote, Apple is clearly attempting to distance itself from Facebook, a company that is infamous for ‘stealing’ data.

Facebook, who makes 98.5% of its revenue, about $69.7 billion, has become a convenient public and political scapegoat for Big Tech.

The thing is, Facebook, or any app for that matter, isn’t stealing data from any one. It’s creating data. Something that it has the right to do.

Without their service, their technology, their decisions on what user metrics matter enough to be collected, the data wouldn’t exist at all.

You, as a human, as a user aren’t creating anything. You are using a service and in exchange, in order for that service to continue, it tracks your usage and metrics, creating a means of revenue for itself.

It’s not your data. Big Tech doesn’t care about you personally, and “your” data has no meaning on its own.

They’re not looking into exactly what Maya Flores is doing on a Tuesday afternoon, it means nothing to them.

When companies are collecting data, they’re looking to create groups and clusters, grouping thousands of users together based on interests and traits. Data is only valuable in aggregate.

An analogous real world example is shopping at the grocery store.

Publix keeps track of each of your purchases.

By doing this, it can better keep its shelves stocked, make sure to only offer products that have demand.

They are also able to then ensure that less food is wasted and that they make money by selling the things people actually want.

Yeah it is data you helped to create, but it really has nothing to do with you and is only valuable when they take into account all customers.

That being said, I’m not arguing that apps should have free reign of your devices.

Currently, apps can track activity across apps and websites owned by other companies. This has actual security ramifications. Those concerns are far beyond just the issue of Instagram showing you tailor made ads.

But not to fear: ATT does provide protection against this too.

As Apple founder and Cook’s predecessor Steve Jobs took a much more democratic stance on data privacy.

In 2010 Jobs said, “I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them.”

Apple’s new ATT technology allows users to do exactly that, determine how much they want to share with the apps they use.

When this update rolls out I implore you to take a second and think about what exactly you’re doing when you block apps from tracking all data on you.

I, for one, love the ability to scroll through an Instagram explore page.

I get to see perfectly tailored to my interests and allow Amazon to pull up the exact bag of beans I was looking for. And they did this all just based on my recent coffee machine purchase.