Put an end to the problem of personal data?

by bold-lichterman

The management of the personal data of Internet users is one of the major questions of the moment, and the choices made today will be decisive for the future development of our societies.

Unfortunately, for now, it looks like we’re caught in a cycle of not-so-productive scandals: startups like Path or giants like Google and Facebook are discovered collecting data they shouldn’t be recovering, or well they change their conditions of use to be able to do so, and the internet is outraged… without great consequences in general.

Meanwhile, governments seem too busy trying to police Internet users to deal with protecting our personal data.

Put an end to the problem of personal data

Facebook, Google and the others do not, however, come out unscathed from these scandals: their image is severely tarnished, and like Microsoft in the 1990s, many people used them not for love but rather because they did not think they could avoid them. And if “Microsoft in the 1990s “is an enviable position, the risk is of course to become very quickly”Microsoft in the 2000s ”.

Some people reduce the debate to this maxim: if you use a “free” service on the internet, it is probably because you are the one selling you. Suddenly, the solution would be to use paid services. 61% of Americans say they are ready to pay rather than having their personal data used. However, Sony’s setbacks with its hacked Playstation Network, or those of Apple when it was discovered that the iPhone was recording your location without your knowledge, have shown that taking out your wallet does not necessarily protect life. private.

Put an end to the problem of personal dataHow then to get out of this vicious circle? It will inevitably be necessary to make efforts on both sides, on the one hand at the level of Internet users to better understand and better manage the data they produce, on the other hand on the side of companies to be more transparent. But how do you get there? Perhaps the concept of the “quantified self” is the solution.


The “Quantified Self”Is a concept created by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, two journalists from Wired. Partly inspired by lifeloggers, the principle is as follows: use technology to collect data on all its activities, then analyze this data to find correlations, patterns, etc.

We generally think first of the use of the concept in the field of health, and Fitbit provides the best tools in the field, including the Fitbit tracker, an intelligent pedometer that of course counts your steps and records them, but also measures the calories burned, the time it takes you to fall asleep and the number of times you wake up in the night …

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But the quantified self is also Last FM which gives you statistics on the music you listen to, Gmail Meter which teaches you a lot of things about your use of email, the application Geoloqi that goes beyond the checkin to record where you’ve been at each moment.

All these statistics allow us to know more about ourselves, to better understand ourselves and possibly to change our habits. They provide a real service, and we understand why some become addicted to them.

Facebook, Google and the quantified self

And then there is of course Facebook, which seems to know everything you do at all times on the internet and sometimes a little beyond. Facebook’s sin is keeping all this data to itself. It’s actually possible to retrieve all the data that Facebook has on you if you want to (it’s a legal requirement) but what to do with the mass of raw data you’ll receive. Timeline however represents a movement towards a little more transparency, since finally you have a relatively simple access to your account history, as well as to the list of your last actions. From there to using Facebook to quantify the data of your life, there’s a world.

Google is in a comparable situation, but has done more to free up user data with Google Takeout, a service that allows you to recover your data in a clear and simple way, Google Dashboard which lists the Google services to which you are registered, the setting preferences for advertising and also the brand new Activity Report, which summarizes the activity of your account in a few figures.

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Facebook and Google remain fairly secret about everything they know about us, no doubt believing that the public is naively using their services and that they might be scared if they knew the truth. Yet as the quantified self movement shows, there is great value for individuals in accessing their own data, and there is no evidence that giving everyone access to their own data (and only their own, well. heard) would in any way diminish the value of Google’s and Facebook’s databases as a whole.

By giving everyone access to their own statistics, they could regain the confidence of Internet users while providing them with a new valuable service. In any case, this is what Google is doing a little timidly with the Activity Report, and Facebook to a lesser extent with the Timeline. Let us hope that these first initiatives will lead to an exit from the vicious circle into which we have entered and which does not benefit anyone.