Watching Raffaello D’Andrea show the future of robots and the role of algorithms fascinates. Download it or watch it when you have time: Raffaello D’Andrea: The astounding athletic power of quadcopters. Though I wondered during the incredible demonstration if Major League Baseball would have robotic players within 25 years, it also reminded of the mining of consumer data and how consumers might be looking for significant quid pro quo for their free transfer of labor and data.
Recently I experienced a group of 500 US High School students in the 11th Grade (like Fifth Form in some systems) sitting to take their college standardized tests. If you have ever experienced this or know young people who have, the tests, three in total, drag on for hours and test Mathematical skills, Reading and Writing skills. They are gruelling, and judging by the enormous changes in scores that the same student can receive after taking the test multiple times and before and after tutoring, they seem to be of dubious value. Be that as it may, one interesting bit is that about 10% of each test consists of questions that are experimental. They are there to see how the students perform, and they are used to generate the next generation of test. Though there is no value to getting them wrong or right, they drag the test out, can raise anxiety, and students cannot identify these valueless questions nor are they compensated. Dickens would love this exploitation of tired and anxious children.
How many of us in business are similarly exploiting consumers? Sucking up their credit card data, their Facebook posts to friends and family, their geo-location, driving behaviour, talk time, contacts, their Pinterest responses, forum participation, flight details – it is getting endless what we can vacuum up, analyze and exploit. What are we telling clients – clearly and explicitly – about our electronic voyeurism? Are we showing them that surveillance is good? That we guarantee that it is benign? That the results are good for them?
We might think that consumers know that all of the wonderful ‘free apps’ that they have been drawn into are free up to a point. Look, mom, I found my classmate from the Third Grade! Track, track, track. Data mined, results sold, consumer gets to turn over more data. At some point it is like the old Chestnut of the parents returning from vacation and they give their child a T-Shirt that reads, ‘My parents went to Club Med and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt!’
Perhaps consumers will always be quiescent and not see the data gathering and mining as insidious. There is a good chance that they will always see it as a fair exchange of value. But what if they don’t? What if instead they begin to question the price of exposing their preferences and activity? What if a modern Dickens writes a Bleak House about you and your invasive data gathering and the legal labyrinth that ensues? Of course this may not happen, but perhaps we had all begin to prepare to explain ourselves a bit more carefully, and show the value a bit more explicitly, and explain consumer rights in the data mining age just a bit more clearly.
What do you think? Nothing to worry about now and never, or could a consumer backlash happen?