In December, Netflix called out 53 people on Twitter for streaming their (adorably unrealistic) holiday movie, A Christmas Prince, for 18 consecutive days. Of course, the tweet was hilarious and timely and a smart marketing tactic to promote the film, but it also made me wonder how much Netflix actually knows about me.
Data mining isn’t a secret. To put it simply: it’s the collection of data from a huge group of people (aka: Netflix subscribers) to then generate new content based on their findings. We all know it’s happening, and we’re all willingly subjecting ourselves (and our preferences) in order to get tailored content. Trust me, there is nothing that makes me happier than finishing a TV show to only be recommended a new, even more amazing show based on my previous binges. But how far is too far?
Spotify made an an entire advertising campaign by highlighting custom playlist names on billboards to poke fun at their listeners. It was eye-catching and funny, but it also made us aware that if we listen to Justin Bieber on repeat for 48 hours, they’re going to know about it. My question is, how do we know they are going to keep all of their data to themselves and for only their benefit?
And how much more do they actually know?
If Spotify knows how many people are listening to a song at a time, how old they are, where they are located, what their personal life is like (hello, Facebook login method), then who’s to say they won’t either sell that information to someone else or start using that information to further influence what type of media we are consuming?
If content becomes so tailored to what corporations think we will like, then how do we really know they aren’t actually controlling what we like before we even can discover what else is out there?
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. Hello, Russia/Facebook scandal. But it begs the question that if there’s not control over what type of data mining corporations can do, then eventually (if not already) they will be the ones who ultimately control what we consume and how we view the world around us.
If Spotify and Netflix can play Big Brother, what can, say, Facebook and Google do to influence what you’re consuming? It may be based on your preferences, but it may also be influencing what you are consuming without you even really knowing there’s an alternative. And since 90% of what we watch, listen to, and interact with is being streamed through a larger corporation, it’s not a stretch to imagine that influence their consumers based on their own personal beliefs or even just in favor of the highest bidder (advertiser).
I know this all sounds very “I have a conspiracy theory”, but I believe it’s a legitimate concern. Coming from someone who has Alexa talking (aka: listening) to me everyday, I’m fully aware that someone, somewhere is gathering information. Does that bother me as long as I can have a recipe read to me in the kitchen and my lights turn on before I walk in the door at night? Not really. But I do believe we have to think about future regulations on what type of information corporations can obtain, and what they are allowed to do with it. Because just because they can collect all of this information about us, doesn’t necessarily mean they should be doing so without our knowledge of where that data is going.