I’ve taken to watching “The News Hour” with Jim Leher when I manage to get home at, or before, 7pm.
Wednesday night, they had two fairly intelligent people talking about the dangers of data collection practices in an unregulated environment. There was some sensationalist fear being spouted about, you know, “Oh No! They can track everything you’re doing with cookies”, and so on.
I find it intensely sad that some politicians want us to obsess about how Nike might be using data to target anonymous people with specific ads, while they pass a bill that gives them the right to wiretap anybody. Distraction in action.
The truth of the matter is that most companies don’t even have the capability for real data driven insights, and nobody really cares if you, specifically, have been buying an obnoxious number of paper towels and taco powder. Well, maybe I’d like to cross sell you on higher margin chicken as opposed to beef, and besides, the chicken has so much less fat. What I just described might sound intensely simple, but it’s not. It’s actually, organizationally, intensely complex. Why? The technology itself is there, not all of it actually talks to each other. And then there are people. The social technology just isn’t there in most corporations.
Government is just like a corporation. Only slower and more apathetic. Evolutionary algorithms function so much more slowly in Government.
Shift gears and talk about Trust.
It comes down to Trust in a certain respect.
Do I trust the people who are collecting data on me?
I happen to know most of the Canadian people who collect data on me. I know many of them by name, and I call many of them my friends. There are safeguards in place that prevent them for being able to identify me directly, I know they exist, and so we’re alright. It’s not like Mike calls me out on my browsing habits or anything. He simply wouldn’t be able to pick that out about me.
I know a few people who I consider unethical, and who have done unethical things. I disassociate myself with those people.
Do I trust the Government to do the right thing?
I’m in a unique situation, in that I know some of the people in Government. They’re genuinely good people. I know of a few bad people in Government too.
I think the need for some regulation is very strong, because we always need some mechanism to punish the people who abuse our trust. That’s really the role of regulation in Canada.
In Canada, regulation is supposed to be about something called “guarding the public interest”. Now, over the years, some politicians have set up regulations that abuse the public interest – policies that favor certain media interests, for instance. It goes back to old Macdonald. Actually, you can it trace right back to the Family Compact.
Government, recently, has really started to favor the wants and desires of the very few over the many. This is damaging trust. An erosion of trust hurts everybody in society.
To be sure, there are shining examples to the contrary. I’ve been a part of multiple efforts to keep certain myopic people from damaging our collective security, and I’m proud to say that government officials made the right choices.
I think we need a few more baseline regulations around the use and selling of personal information in Canada. We have a few really strong regulations that are just great, and I actually use those in pushing back against unethical practices – they’re very effective in Canada.
At the end of the day, I’m a user of data, and I’m a producer of data too, and we need to punish people who are behaving unethically. Essentially, we should be designating certain unethical behaviors as illegal.
I trust almost all the people I do know.
It’s the ones I don’t trust that really worry me.