Monday, 2 March 2009

How Social Data can Manipulate Society

What are the implications of storing a complete record of your life online?

More than likely, you'll be halfway towards this already. Facebook has your friends. Google has your search history, your emails and your documents. Microsoft has your chat history. Last.fm has your taste in music. Delicious has your interests. Twitter has your random thoughts. And all this is voluntary. Imagine what they may be doing with this data, when it's all brought together, what will it tell them about you? It's no surprise that Google is buying everything.

Of course it's worrying, but I suppose it's not the end of the world if some big corporation has your information. It's not even anything new, credit card companies have been doing it for decades.

The issue now though is that the information mined is more detailed and complete than it's ever been before. And it's all owned by American companies. Companies who, thanks to the patriot act, have to hand over any information the US government asks for.

However, the problem is not what they will do with one person's information. It's what they will do with all of it.

Social control is a relatively simple practice. It's been done for centuries, convincing societies to go to war, to do the bidding of the elite.

If a government or political entity knows enough about its society, it can play off its fears, play up to its desires, and essentially manipulate the populace with counter-information spread via media, both social and mainstream. It can drive sentiment, spread rumours, and shape the information people have access to.

This is not a new practice, but it has become a lot easier, a lot more specific. Now that various aspects of our personalities are recorded, it has become much easier to focus in on specific hopes and fears. It should not seem far fetched that this information could be used for very specific political purposes.

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