What will all your personal data add up to?

Have you ever wondered how much data is actually known about you? What pictures are posted, what might be recorded, captured, documented, or stashed in a database somewhere about you? Your online habits, travel patterns, credit card spending are just the beginning. What else could be knowable with a little effort, a little digging, a little data gathering. Earlier this year, I opened a blank excel spreadsheet and began making a list. And in true quantified-self fashion I scored each entry of data collected about me on a scale of 1-5 based on how public or private the information might be.

  1. 1. public google search
  2. 2. findable with a little effort
  3. 3. sitting in a marketer’s data base
  4. 4. personal - held by me
  5. 5. NSA can dig this up

I made the scale well before the disclosures this past year that the NSA was indeed gathering metadata on your phone calls, email, social contacts and search online. I stopped at well over a hundred entries, and every few days I would think of something else that had been captured about me, my behaviour, my financial standing, my medical records. Odd things, inconsequential things, but insightful about me, if all pooled together could paint a picture with more detail and richness than I might be able to even recall about myself. Every movie I’d watched on Netflix, every purchase on Amazon, the location of every dollar spent with a credit card, when I liked to send messages or take pictures on my iphone.

What does all this personal data add up to? Is it a boon to Bluekai and other big data marketers helping companies mine your personal data or just a nightmare scenario for complete loss of privacy? As an artist who grew up in the tech industry and loves technology, I have thought about a future where personal data could become meaningful. Maybe all this vaguely unpleasant surveillance and data gathering about us could turn into a surprisingly insightful view of ourselves and be delivered in ways that will be irresistible. 

Am in the midst of writing an arts&culture article for a big science publication....this is the opening paragraphs. Stay tuned.