Understanding Oil and People.

The best, and I mean best analogy came from Leo Laporte about what is going on right now.   Humans have become the new oil.   Let us go back, and dig deep into this because people need to understand, and right now it is just the Tech Community that (and few in it) that really grasps what is going on.

First, when the internet started, there were many things that were free.  It was for colleges and learning.  It was a large sharing of information, all to help each other.  Soon as more people got on, there was a race to monetize it (the Internet gold rush) – One key thing was advertising.   And the event of the “banner add” – Get a flashback to all the banner ads that were annoying, bright and really pissing people off.  Then came Google, a simple search UI, that was truly minimalistic.   Just a search bar, and results.   The results were most relevant, and slowly it became the defacto search.   Of course, this too needed to be monetized.   Later on social media hit, Facebook being a dominating winner, and it too was searching for monetization.

Well, neither of these companies can charge so they had to go to an  “ad” model.  Generic ads (like the ones on TV) are only effective to a point.  How many times have you seen an ad on TV and are like, I am not the audience for this?   Well Google, Facebook and countless of other companies that rely on advertising needed signal from you so that they could direct advertising that would be relevant.   And if you think about it, wouldn’t you rather see something you are interested in?   So these companies tried to get as much data about you, but giving you “free” things, and even giving our free things to others where you interact to gather additional signals.  This is all technically fine, as you are getting something free for what you are giving them (eyeballs for ads.)

But, here is where the creepy line hit.  Instead of saying showing you ads of Porsche SUVs, when you clicked on articles about SUVs, and Luxury cars, people started looking deeper into the signals.  They started mining your actions in a more psychological way.   These companies started trying to figure out if you were happy, depressed, angry etc.   So think about it this way, for some people they may “eat more” when they are upset,  If systems can figure out by what you are searching for what you are reading and or what you are posting, and able to sell you something or convince you to Vote (or possibly not to vote)  This is where the analogy for Oil.  Oil needs to be mined and then refined before use.  We are being mined, our data is being mined and refined, and they figure out what can be used.  Our information is useless without being refined.

The mining of this information, and the ability to use it to an advantage where we are weak crosses the “Creepy” line.  The Creepy line is what most people feel, but don’t get.  They don’t know that their emotions are being played with, or that they are finding weaknesses to exploit for financial gain.   In Amazon, if you search something, they often show you the same thing in an ad (whether you bought it or not) and sometimes it feels annoying but not creepy.  But what feels creepy is when you and ad are there that somehow touches and emotion.  As long as these companies are giving you “free” access (Google/Facebook etc.) they need to figure out how to make the most of your eyeballs.    Would you be willing to “pay” for Facebook?  Some estimates put the revenue about $26/per person per year.  I think many people would pay that, I sure would. To have zero ads, and keep my data private.  But most likely it is not going to happen, people like “free”

We were not born understanding how to determine these things, we don’t a grasp of what is going on.  I hope my kids and the younger generation can see what is going on and act appropriately.  Until we build a filter, the best we can do is understand what is going on.  But just knowing is an effective way to at least make sure you can think before you click on something in those systems.

My world famous disclaimer…  so, this blog has nothing to do with my current employer.  I provide the information without warranty blah blah blah. I make no money from this blog, there are no advertising, or charges to anyone.  I do this as a brain dump, to leave something behind.  If you want to support me, instead of doing that support one of the charities I care about, the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Hockey in Newark.  I do moderate all comments, and try to remove anything that is not in the spirit of the site.  Thanks for reading