The exploitation and manipulation of social media users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining doesn’t appear to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds, despite what we witnessed in 2020’s election cycle. But it should be.
Surveillance capitalism is an economic system centered on the commodification of personal data with the core purpose of profit-making. The concept arose as advertising companies such as Facebook and Google saw the possibilities of using personal data to target consumers more precisely.
In most cases these platforms are offered as “free,” but the reality is, there can be a steep cost. We are offered services or applications marketed as making our lives better. And now between our smartphones and cars themselves, our driving needs and habits are becoming another source for behavioral data points that can be exploited.
Data Mining While You Drive
There already are several programs and services designed to help drivers who share certain information. Each offers value for the user while collecting data valuable to the company.
- The GM Marketplace offers users the ability to receive special promotions along with local recommendations and directions, and options to order from local stores and pay remotely via in-vehicle touchscreen and mobile apps. In exchange, the program collects data on your driving routes, restaurant choices, common orders, current location and more.
- Several insurance companies now offer Usage Based Insurance (UBI) which offers the potential for cheaper insurance rates to users. Driving monitors are installed and collect data on driving speeds, how hard the driver brakes and other metrics to customize insurance coverage and premiums.
- Interior monitoring options are becoming the new standard for newer cars. These systems are touted as enhancing safety and security for users. One system offered by Bosch includes data collection on everything from driver focus and alertness to facial recognition and full occupant monitoring.
Looking ahead, we will be able to choose which information we share with car companies and mobility providers and in some instances we won't. In some instances we may even have the option to receive compensation, rewards or a discount based on our preferences and behavior.
Where Does the Buck Stop?
But what if you learned that your insurance company was re-purposing that information for monetary gain, let alone for nefarious purposes or interests that don't share your values? Would you continue sharing your driving patterns for the reward?
Like social media does for Big Tech companies, car connectivity gathers data for automakers (and other parties of interest. And while on the front end it appears to be a fair deal, if we have learned anything about corporations it is that their pursuit of profit and power can go unchecked.
Blockchain and NFTs
The unique role that non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, could play for consumers as a form of currency exchange for personal bits of information that you authentically own could very well be on the horizon.
NFTs are cryptographic assets on blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata that distinguish them from each other. Unlike cryptocurrencies, they cannot be traded or exchanged at equivalency. This differs from fungible tokens like cryptocurrencies, which are identical to each other and, therefore, can be used as a medium for commercial transactions.
As an example, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey just sold his first tweet as an NFT for $2.9M. The tweet, a digital asset, was bought using the cryptocurrency Ether, for 1630.5825601 ETH, which was worth $2,915,835.47 at the time of sale.
Each NFT has its own blockchain-based digital signature, which serves as a public ledger, allowing anyone to verify the asset’s authenticity and ownership. And much like a tweet, the records of your whereabouts and activities could also potentially be certified as digital assets and used as NFTs with nominal value.
In summary, Big Tech companies have crossed the line with the use of information they accumulate from its users by censoring and silencing information that doesn’t support their own ideological narratives. They also give information and entities that support their ideologies access to the masses, for a fee.
The only choice consumers have to combat this is to stop using apps and technologies offered by these companies. But that doesn’t empower consumers and choosing to not use our cars or go anywhere to preserve our privacy is not a realistic option.
Consumers will learn in due time that while the value of our predictive nature might be a commodity for Big Tech, we run the risk en masse that this can and will be used against us. I believe that the blockchain and NFTs could potentially provide a system where we as consumers have more control and capabilities with our predictive behavior.
Ryan Gerardi (pictured above, left) is founder and president of AutoConversion, which specializes in B2B and retail solutions for automotive, mobility and transportation companies.