Wednesday, January 1, 2020

How much is my behavioral surplus worth?

One thing that concerns me is how much money big players in the surveillance capitalism are making on the behavioral data they mine from all of us and the majority of the people are not benefiting from it.

Sure there is value on all the research they've done. Today we have better weather prediction, disease control, emergency response, and on and on, but they are also feeding our information to rogue players that are plainly exploiting the population at large with the prediction models they created.

For example, take the insurance industry. They make huge profit on reducing their risk using the prediction models. Today, any kind of insurance we buy, be it car, home warranty, appliances, life, health insurance is crafted in a way that everyone insured will lose money and the insurance carriers will always profit big time.

The big behavioral surplus miners, like the Googles, FB, big retailers, big media corporations have an impressive power and share a slice of it with the willing customers like big corporations in several industries: pharmaceutical, finance, insurance, retail, so they can prey on the consumers and individuals.

Consumers and individuals are constantly fragmented, segmented, so they never can amass enough cohesion to respond to this assault. 

In my point of view, it's fruitless to prevent, reduce or contain the behavioral surplus mining. The genie is already out of the bottle. What we can do is to reduce the disparity between the players, by providing the consumers and individuals with a transparency about these predictions models. 

For example, a senior citizen is coerced into buying warranty for the tablet she is acquiring at the retail store to have video calls with her grandchildren. In absolute numbers the values seem to be minimal, but for a senior citizen on a fixed income these small assaults add up. She might be lucky and one of her children or one of her grandchildren will be around and will do the math and show her that it is not worth it, that the retailer is only pushing the warranty product on her because of the high profit margin of this product. For the retailer the tablet is just a bait to sell the warranty. Phone carriers do a similar thing when they "offer" free tablet with your phone plan and then shove the monthly data usage fee and the warranty for it, because "you don't want to lose or get the tablet damaged and not being able to replace it for free".

The point is, not everyone has a smart daughter or granddaughter handy when we make our buying decisions. And for society as a whole, wasting our buying power into these fictitious products is preventing us from putting money in other actual products that are more beneficial for society. They work as money concentration tools.

We need an impartial agent that researches and provides AI agents that can be accessed by everyone when making spending decisions, with the intent for everyone to be better off in the long run. This will level the plain field and will make both sides of the transactions better in the long run.

In my opinion, the most efficient way to create such impartial agent is to use the government for that, but when the government is held hostage of mobsters, we need to find alternative agents that are willing to work for the common good. Maybe a consortium of marketing research companies can step up to to plate and create the proper tools for the common people to police the behavioral surplus mining or to benefit from big data in the same way big corporations do. Why marketing research companies? Because they are also losing in the big data mining industry. The big players control the sensors that are the fringe of the network, in the hands of the consumers, the smart phones and the encrypted popular social network sites that aspirate all the behavioral surplus from everyone. Its becoming harder and costlier for marketing research companies to acquire the important data that allow them to do their job. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, they are all rendering marketing research companies obsolete. It is hard to convince a consumer to wear an additional meter besides just my smart watch or my smart phone, just so the marketing research firm can collect some approximation of the data that is actually being collected by the manufacturer of the smart device or its operating system. And in the process of developing such autonomous data collecting tools, by using public diagnostic APIs and cloud based tools, the marketing research companies provide even more information for the big players, that also control the software development tools market.

Here is an opportunity for such companies to re-invent themselves as stewards of the surveillance capitalism, bringing order and information justice to society and keeping themselves viable in the future.

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