Privacy or Convenience? You Don’t Have To Pick One, You Already Have.

Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/multiracial-positive-male-and-female-students-using-smartphones-in-city-park-6146931/

Over the years, we have been introduced (and grown accustomed) to various conveniences, from mobile technology to eCommerce and everything in-between. You can buy clothes and groceries online, order pizza from your couch, and more. We’re even moving farther into this digital revolution as many gear up for what they call “Web 3.0” or Web3. With each new wave of technology, we’re introduced to even more conveniences, and the point of this post is to highlight the [inevitable] cost of these conveniences.

Picture this; you’re running out of milk at home, and you’re currently at a grocery store. Now, because you don’t know you’re running out of milk, you don’t plan to get any, but then you receive a notification with a message that reads “I see you’re at a grocery store. Please pick up some milk. You’re running out”. That’s pretty convenient. That notification has saved you the time, money, and energy you’d have spent going home and having to go back out just for milk. That’s amazing stuff. Now, understand this; that message didn’t come from your spouse or roommate. It came from an app. An app that is connected to your fridge inventory and knows when you’re running out of stuff. Pretty neat, right? Of course.

In order for that to work — to have such conveniences — you have to be willing to give up, at the minimum, the following data points:

  1. Your live location (Real-time)
  2. Access to your home appliances
  3. Home address

This is the inevitable cost of that convenience. Obviously, besides the $10-$12/month you may be paying for the app. But that’s just money.

Picture this, again; you walk into a grocery store, you get the groceries you want, and then walk out. No lines, no payment, just walk out. That’s pretty convenient, no? Of course, it is. This actually exists already. It’s called AmazonGo. With it’s sensor fusion, computer vision and deep learning technology, Amazon is able to identify you and charge your account, without you having to do anything. You scan your phone via the Amazon app, walk in, shop, and then leave. In order for this to work, I’ll let you figure out what data points you have to give up.

I’m not painting a dystopian future here, because this isn’t a big deal; we already give up information every day, most especially on social media. My point is, at the current stage, the true price for convenience is privacy, which begs the question, is there actually any privacy? The real answer is no, and the fake answer is, “it depends”.

Let’s put advanced tech aside for a second. A while ago, I shared on twitter, that it’s easy to find out a lot about a person simply by reading their tweets. So, their tweets, meaning, the information they have voluntarily given up. Here’s the exchange with someone who questioned the rhetoric.

the original tweet
the results from a few minutes of scrolling through her tweets.

One of my followers claimed to not share a lot on Twitter, so I decided to visit her profile for a few minutes, and that’s what I found out. That was literally a few minutes. Now, I know it’s not much, and I think I got one thing wrong (Amaka is her sister/cousin and not a friend, or something like that) but if I wanted to sell something to her, I have information that’ll be conducive to the sale. I’m a human being, who had a few minutes to spare. Think of what tech can do.

To delve deeper into this would require us to explore the areas of Big Data and Unstructured Learning of AI models, but that’s not the topic.

My point is this; privacy is the true cost of modern-day conveniences. Another example is Shazam, the popular song-search app, which helps you identify the music you’re listening to. It’s truly an amazing product. You’re out and you hear a song you love, but you don’t know what song it is, so you open up Shazam, and Shazam tells you the title and artist of the song. Brilliant! Now, to access that convenience, you’ll need to give Shazam access to your microphone, in order to listen to you, every time. Yes, every time. Not only when you open the app to search for a song. I don’t know if this is still the deal, but if you want to use the app, you need to agree to these terms. That’s the price.

As new innovative and fun technology solutions and products emerge, and tech becomes intertwined with our daily lives, it’s important to know what the true costs of convenience is. A few years ago, the popular half-jokingly phrase was “there’s an app for that”. Whatever problem you faced, there’s an app, trying to solve it for you, making your life simpler. This is not only true now, but will continue to be true for a long time.

We’ve seen documentaries, heard stories and read articles about how tech companies use or misuse user data, target users, mine data, etc. But guess what? The user behaviour doesn’t change. While watching the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ (or was it ‘The Great Hack’, I don’t remember), one of the pieces of advice the design experts gave was to not click on any YouTube videos on your homepage. The argument was that when you click on these recommendations, YouTube learns your interests and aims to keep you on the platform by suggesting similar videos to you. Makes sense. But would you rather see videos of things you’re not remotely interested in? Of course not. It’s more convenient to be suggested the things you’re interested in, but you must pay the price.

I, for example, watch A LOT of sermons on YouTube, so my homepage recommends sermons I might not have heard/watched before. I appreciate that. It works in my favour. I don’t want that to change 🤷🏽‍♂️

We’re going to be introduced to even more convenient apps, services and products. It’s just good to know what the true cost is. Google is one of my favourite companies on earth, but even I know that the ample products they offer for free aren’t really free. There’s a cost.

Several years ago, Target, the consumer retailer in the US, was able to figure out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did. How? Data mining. Based on what she bought. Sound creepy? Sure, but are people going to stop shopping at Target? Of course not. It’s convenient. That was based on offline activity. Now imagine what happens online. Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to paint a dystopian future. There’s nothing to fear. It’s not a big deal. Lol

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the truth about privacy online is simply this; it doesn’t exist. And you don’t mind that. Obviously. Why? Because it’s convenient.

and inevitable.

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Nosa Igbinedion

Nosa Igbinedion

Chief Steward at Olubrain Technologies