I recently got a chance to chat with David Carroll
. David is Associate Professor of Media Design at the New School
and has written quite a bit on ad blocking and data privacy
. He attacks these topics from an academic perspective and I was excited to pick his brain on many of the trends that I think about from an investment perspective. Below are some highlights from our discussion.
NT: You are clearly in the camp that believes data privacy/security online will become increasingly important over time. What do you think the catalysts will be that cause more people to care more about data privacy/security on the web?
DC: The research I’m reviewing points to a natural demographic shift – as younger generations age, they will take their data privacy consciousness gained in late childhood into early adulthood along with them into their careers and push an antiquated definition of privacy and an entitlement of data collection into retirement.
In other words, the younger the internet user, the more likely they are to have exhibited more sophisticated privacy defensive behaviors than their parents or grandparents, indicating they have a more complex and nuanced understanding of the system and its intrinsic risks. They also demonstrate how to negotiate the technologies that value privacy and security protections. The myth that young people don’t care about their privacy is something you hear from old people who either don’t understand or have a vested interest in perpetuating that misconception.
NT: Why do you think most people are so willing to give up so much of their data to the big 4 (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) currently?
Research from Pew and Annenberg (Tradeoff Fallacy
) suggests that Americans have a sophisticated understanding of how privacy is exchanged for access to services, usually funded by advertising. However, the research emphasizes how people are feeling increasingly frustrated and anxious about having lost control of their data, and sense of being defeated and shortchanged by the industry.
Consumers of digital services haven’t been offered fair choices and terms related to notice and consent and mechanisms to manage legitimate data protection concerns. Both the FCC, FTC, and EU Data Protection authorities are drawing attention to industry’s shortcomings and liabilities when it comes to privacy, data protection, and the abuse and misuse of our data.
In terms of your 4 Horsemen of the Datapocalypse there, it’s worth pointing out that Apple has attempted to stand apart from the others in several significant ways by selling devices not data extractive “free” services, and culminating in their stance against the FBI.
It seems to me that more and more people are learning more and more about how Google, Facebook, and Amazon may be abusing the relationship we have with them and need to address certain unresolved issues. Meanwhile the market and regulatory regimes will continue to pressure them to work harder in the core missions of maintaining trust with consumers.
I think the biggest problem to overcome is that because most people feel defeated and dependent on these companies, they are reluctant to go digging into the fine print and confront their worst fears that not only their data gets abused, but also they are indeed losing control over their identity and by extension free will.
People know deep down that they’ll have to stop using these services to regain control and they’re not ready to admit how much value they’ve invested in Facebook and rely on it to conduct social transactions. It’s locked up in this abstraction that Facebook provides a valuable service but we’re the product not the customer and it sucks to admit this.
NT: How do you incorporate privacy/security into your curriculum at the New School?
DC: I have been teaching a course for a few years now called Surveillance Design at the graduate level which delves deep into the history, theory, and practice related to surveillance and privacy from the perspective of artists, designers, policymakers, activists, and entrepreneurs.
Separate from this course, the considerations of ethics and technology are interwoven into everything we do. We try to be critical about technology with technology and we try to expand the role of the designer as a critical technologist.
Our students bring privacy and security into their own research and practice. We are seeing more thesis projects each year tackling these issues. It’s further evidence of my hypothesis that young people care deeply about these issues and are prepared to dedicate their careers toward reforming unethical practices and building a better model for the next era.
NT: Are there any products you are especially excited about that give people control of their own data and also provide a great consumer experience?
DC: I’m excited about the Data Selfie
project coming out of MFA Design and Technology at Parsons. This is a powerful app designed for parents to help them teach their teens about data privacy on social networks as a form of quantified self, to recapture your data selfie by constructing an image of yourself that mirrors how data companies construct us. Knowledge is power and privacy-conscious over-achieving parents are the target market.
In the mid-term, I expect the blockchain to radically change everything
and it seems that the powerful decentralization and transparency that is to come will counteract many of the damaging consequences of surveillance capitalism
under a highly concentrated and consolidated market for consumer data under Facebook/Google/Amazon.
I’m also excited about platform co-ops like Stocksy United
which just closed a round of redeemable preference shares
which is a new/old way of thinking about alternatives to VC which as a model isn’t suitable for most new businesses and enterprises, especially ones that aim to be worker-owned. After seeing Chobani issue stock
to its workers, I think we’ll see more innovation around new co-ownership models that help the economy by massively increasing the velocity of money. I see these as signals that we’re moving toward a tumultuous but potentially transformative period of transition, and hopefully for the better.