Bitcoin might be up and coming, but information will always be where the money’s at.
Seems like every other day I’m getting emails with free trial offers. Those Netflix free trial ads, those “30 free days” Spotify ads, those annoying Wrapp deals, Amazon Prime, etc. The catch is I have to trade my info for ’em. More trouble is I have to remember to cancel those shits, because they don’t care and will charge you if you forget (I kinda need my 75 dollare refund, dude). It’s easy money for the corporations. Of course, if one does rememeber to cancel those trials before they expire, then one can come out like a bandit, scott free. Thanks for that free 2 day shipping! And the free gym playlists! But, if one thinks about it a little harder, those trials aren’t actually “free”. See, that month long Sons of Anarchy binge you enjoyed on Netlifx’s dime wasn’t really free, in a real world sense. You actually got tricked into paying with private capitol (or sensitive and private information).
Let’s imagine I am some bored (maybe stoned) guy reading through promo emails and Netflix has managed to convince me that the 30 day trial is a fair trade for my Name (even Middle Name), Address, Email, and Credit Card Info. Say I bite, like most people do, since usually a month of service is 7 bucks and the trial is asking for 0 bucks. After all, this information stuff of mine isn’t turning into 7 dollars any time soon, so it’s an easy trade to make. I get what I want (shows for days) and they get no money in return (just some worthless information and a temporary subscription that I’m smart enough to cancel when the time comes). I come away happy without losing money.
Problem is, when we go for those free trials and get excited about temporary free shit, we’re actually paying a hefty fee. Most people undervalue their privacy and sensitive data, handing over a lot of valuable intel in return for 30 days of reruns (viewership patterns, geographical relevance, etc.) that otherwise would fetch a high price in the hackers’, retail chains’, e-commerce’s and marketing firms’ version of the black market. Some companies negotiate to buy the information from others in order to help preemptively rain down product placement on the people who fall into their target demographics. Sometimes companies are even hacked and robbed of the private information. Hell, the government pretty much stole Google’s databases (which include your porn searches, amongst all other private stuff). If the government wants it, you know it’s gotta be valuable. So while others are investing thousands of minutes and millions of dollars to secure this info, we’re over here trading it for 7 dollars worth of Sponge Bob episodes. Crazy devaluation on our part, and they’re the ones who end up coming out like bandits in these trades.
To be fair, sometimes free really is free. Nowadays, companies fight pretty tough for your time, attention and space. Free trials and samples are shoved in our everyday line of sight (through emails, magazines, flyers, etc.). But there are times when those Red Bull backpack girls pull out the goods and just hand ’em away. For free. You don’t have to offer any information, just a few seconds of attention, and you get to enjoy a crackinated beverage. Awesome, I’d say, and a fair trade at that. Super brief marketing, pretty harmless and no one becomes indebted to, or robbed by, yet another company.
Other times, people might want to take an offer because they value the gain significantly more than the loss. If you personally highly value getting those DBZ DVDs and want them tomorrow, then, in this case, maybe handing over your private capitol for that free 2 day shipping seems like a fair trade. After all, it’s all about you, ultimately (and your need to go SUPER SAYINAHHHHHHHHHH) and value is subjective. You might not even really care what information companies know about you. Fuck it. You value this nostalgia more than they value your marketing help. Fuck em.
But my long-term fear is that eventually the free-flow of information will lead to the loss of personality and privacy all-together. If a company knows everything about you, and there is nothing left to hide, then it’s almost like you don’t own your self anymore. For example, Macy’s could gather all this info on you (either by consent or by other means) and could email you exactly what you want to read. That is, Macy’s knew that your birthday was coming up, that you watch Blue Crush over and over, that you like the color red, that you like to travel in the summer, etc. Macy’s, through algorithms, predictions, context, and research, could email you the perfectly fine tuned item (in this case a red bikini). In this way, you’d never have to even search for an item yourself because the company already has a perfectly calibrated and fine-tuned version of you in their database and they know what you will think to want, based on the sum total of the intel gathered on you. Macy’s just knows you that well. It’s this kind of unsettling loss of sovereignty that strikes me as a real possibility. Go ahead and log into your email, browse your forums and look at the advertisements on the sides and tops of your screen; its already happening. What’s scary is that it’s still going to get more dangerously perfect in the near future. Think less, buy more.
My take on it all is that we sometimes forget the bargaining chips we have in our own back pockets. As we’ve seen, though, there are groups of people out there who even more greatly value the information (this private capitol) we’re giving up than we could ever value whatever we’re getting in return. So many of these companies’ long-term livelihoods rest on our willingness to trade valuable stuff for much-less-valuable stuff. Are we really so willing to forfeit our sovereignty when we hand over all our data? Usually. Most people tend to think with a bias towards the near future and want the good stuff now, rather than think about the consequences that might not show themselves until much later. It’s a hard human intuition to over come, for sure, and the companies are smart to take advantage of it. I just think we need to be a little less trigger-fingered with our clicks. The internet has made it too easy to become complacent with giving up information. So think twice before you sign up for that bangbros trial. Don’t let them penetrate your privacy so easily.