Misuse of data by entities impacts choice of people and leads to manipulation
Pamu:Hey Vir, how are you?
Vir: Hello…. I am fine. What about you?
Pamu: I am also doing fine.
Vir: So, tell me what is it that you wish to discuss with me?
Pamu: I would like to discuss about online platforms in general and social media in particular.
Vir: Great…. but tell me specifically? It is such a wide topic. What specifically do you want to discuss about social media?
Pamu: I will tell you. I would like to dwell on some negative aspects and impacts that social media have on us.
Vir: Negative impact on us…? What are you talking about?
Pamu: I know that social media has affected us greatly. It has benefitted us greatly.
Vir: Yes… social media have helped people come closer, harness their potential, express themselves and what not.
Pamu: Yes… you are right. But, I think it has its negative aspects as well.
Vir: It does have. It has multiple negative consequences. You tell me, what negative aspects do you want to talk about social media?
Pamu: Yes there may be many. As we know that each technology has its pros and cons. Similar is the case with the social media. Hence about it, I want to discuss one of the major aspect of social media.
Vir: Tell me… which one is that?
Pamu: I want to discuss the impact of this virtual world on our day-to-day choices. I believe that our choices are not ours anymore. They are not made of free will, but they are imposed on us, though in as implicit manner. And we feel that they are our free choices, made through logical reasoning.
Vir: Ohhh that. The issue, which you have raised is very critical. The majority of the people are completely unaware of it. They think that they are the controllers of their content, which may not be the case. Rather they are being made to feel that they are in control but it is the biggest lie that may has been mad us believe.
Pamu: Yes, I have heard it. I want to know how they do it. I really value my privacy and wish to avoid such slavery at any cost. Hence, I would also like to know whether there is a way to avert this situation.
Vir: OK…we will discuss it.
Pamu: Ha good.. let’s start. Tell me how these social media and other platforms manipulate our choices.
Vir: It is a simple process.
Pamu: Simple? Is it that simple to manipulate us and our choices…
Vir: My friend manipulation may seem new trend but that is an old phenomena. The only change which can be surmised is about the means to manipulate the people. Nowadays social media platforms are most convenient means.
Pamu: Ok… I would like to know about it then.
Vir: Look… when we carry out some online activities like web surfing, or posting content on social media platforms, what we do is leave our digital footprints. Our usage of these platforms leads to the creation of massive amounts of data.
Pamu: Then what?
Vir: Digital companies process these data. They use several technologies like big data and so on to process the data.
Pamu: Processing of data?
Vir: Ha… data processing is where these platforms collect raw data from such digital footprints, and then they transform it into usable information. They use these patterns for their own benefit.
Pamu: How do they do it?
Vir: They collect and process our data. Now, when they process data they get patterns about our choices, priorities, and things that we like, avoid and so on. These pattern they get from the activity we do on online platforms like Facebook, Google and others.
Once they get the patterns they try to monetize those data patterns. Like, they may sell this data of people to a specific company, who will manufacture the product according to the choices of the people.
Pamu: Hmm… so they use our data in this way.
Vir: Not only that… there is more.
Pamu: More…. what is it?
Vir: Like, such companies will look at our preferences from our digital activities. Once they have our choices, they will show and portray related content and products.
Pamu: Yes… that is true. When I see a particular video online I see similar recommendations and products in advertisement.
But isn’t that good? They make us available the content that we have an interest in.
Vir:Look… it is fine to the extent that it do not affect the privacy of a person and free choice. But it may prove harmful.For instance, they will show you the content of the company or entity that has paid it for such advertisement. But not of others.
Pamu: So what? Why will they show data from other companies if they are not paying for it?
Vir: Certainly they will not. But it restricts our choices as we are shown only a few limited products. They impose choices on us. They will put products of a few selected companies on say e-commerce platforms, from where we are subtly forced to buy products and services.
That also goes about the content that is present on such platforms.
Pamu: So such few companies manipulate our choices. They control our lives by controlling our choices.
Vir: They portray and promote products in a way that people do nothing like borrowing just to buy those flamboyant products, which may not be necessary for us. That is the power of such online platforms.
Pamu: You are true. We are being controlled by a few companies.
Vir: The worst aspect is that we are not even aware of it. Common masses feel happy that such platforms show products, which they wish to buy. But they are being fooled, for they do not understand that they are being manipulated subtly and unknowingly.
Pamu: So, what should we do? Is there any way out of this slavery?
Vir: There is always a way out of problems and this is no exception.
Pamu: Then tell me.
Vir: The first way to minimize or much better is to stop using social media platforms. Even if you use, keep the use minimum.
Pamu: But.. that will prevent us from harnessing positive aspects of such platforms.
Vir: Yes… hence the golden mean needs to be found.
Pamu: What do you think that may be?
Vir: There needs to be proper regulation for such platforms. Such platforms should be regulated in a manner that data of people should not be misused or abused. Hence state has major role to play. Like, Indian government has recently enacted Data protection Law to ensure proper regulation of the data.
Pamu: OK… so you are suggesting the rational regulation of such platforms.
Vir: That is one way and cannot be avoided. It will help greatly to tackle that issue.
Pamu: Ha… What other things can be done to avoid misuse.
Vir: I am glad you asked. According to me, the most important of all is that there is a need for awareness among people. Once people become aware they will try to take steps themselves and most importantly they will create pressure on such stakeholders to avoid misuse of the data.
Pamu: Ha… that is true. Now, the first thing, I will do is to take steps to ensure my privacy and check misuse of my data.
Vir: Good… Do you know? Many people like extremists, terrorists and other anti-social elements use these platforms to provoke people by posting malicious content. Hence awareness is very important among people.
Pamu: Yes… I have heard and read about that.
Vir: Yes… Hence critical awareness among the people is the most powerful weapon to tackle the misuse of the data. Hence, state should include such topics in the academic curriculum. It will help promote the awareness among the people.
Pamu: Yes.. It will change the balance of the power and people will be empowered.
Vir: True…. I hope that day will come when people will control their data and not other entities.
Pamu: Yes… I look forward.