What’s Up with App Users, Data Abuse, and Exploitation?


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cars 113: What's Up with App Users, Data Abuse, and Exploitation?

Session 113

This week, we look at the consequences of using apps that exploit user data. We discuss how to determine the author’s tone from key words throughout the passage.

As always, I’m joined by Jack Westin from JackWestin.com. Check out all their amazing free resources including a free trial session of Jack’s full course to see how it’s like learning from Jack Westin himself.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Link to the article:

https://reallifemag.com/subscriber-city/

At their base, most of the apps on your phone have a simple value proposition: When you want something, you can tap on a screen. Pizza, mortgages, a ride, groceries, you name it — they all can be hailed through the user interface, which commands a mix of information and criminally cheap labor to fulfill your request. You don’t have to go anywhere or talk to anyone.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has opened up new frontiers for this basic business model, as the surging demand for grocery and prepared-food delivery suggests. Typically, pandemics require us to cooperate and compromise until the danger subsides, but apps offer a different approach: They merge the need to isolate with a celebration of convenience, as though having our access to the world mediated by tech companies were the silver lining.

Already, apps excel at offering private, individualized solutions to collective problems that urge us to participate in exploiting one another. As subways crumble and housing prices reach stupendous heights, we get apps that ration car rides and single-bedroom efficiencies. But Covid’s wake may bring a maturation and hybridization of these systems as part of tech companies’ broader agenda: to serve as gatekeepers and toll collectors capable of extracting profit from “identity management,” resource allocation, and access control long after this pandemic has passed. Such systems — which will link insurance, health, financial, and advertising data to profile us against our will (much as credit rating companies have for decades) — already may determine the cost of your car insurance premiums, what job ads you see, and whether or not you will be offered bail. But they may ultimately come to administer our access to everything we associate with the freedom of urban life.

When a 2012 Microsoft patent filing posited a method for taking “the user through neighborhoods with violent crime statistics below a certain threshold,” it spurred a flurry of articles about whether such a project was racist. Yes, it was, but the bigger picture is how crime data may be used alongside data on purchasing histories, demographic information, and land prices to dictate where people live their lives. For example, the patent also described displaying in-car advertisements (“stop at a highway exit for a cup of coffee”) and then monitoring the driver to see if they made that purchase, so that the advertiser could be charged for the ad conversion. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a driver originating from a poor part of town is steered with ads for rent-a-centers, check cashing, and fast food, or one in which a black-owned business is charged double for an ad conversion because there was an armed robbery in the vicinity two days ago. And so on. The various inputs that go into the value of a location for a particular transaction can be assessed and prices adjusted accordingly in a matter of minutes instead of years.

[04:15] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

At their base, most of the apps on your phone have a simple value proposition: When you want something, you can tap on a screen.

Jack says:

Most of us will understand apps on phones and why we use them. We want to do something.

[04:36] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

Pizza, mortgages, a ride, groceries, you name it — they all can be hailed through the user interface, which commands a mix of information and criminally cheap labor to fulfill your request.

Jack says:

These are examples of on-demand, tap-on-a-screen “what we can get.” The author here is giving us a stance of their position – criminally cheap labor to fulfill your request. So this seems like the author has an issue with something criminally. And it’s not a good word.

The author has suddenly given us their tone. Their tone is definitely negative towards these apps. No one wants to be associated with criminally cheap labor.

[05:49] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

You don’t have to go anywhere or talk to anyone.

Jack says:

The author is just framing what these apps do.

[06:09] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has opened up new frontiers for this basic business model, as the surging demand for grocery and prepared-food delivery suggests.

Jack says:

This is a pandemic article and the author is saying that because of the pandemic, these types of apps are more in-demand.

[06:35] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

Typically, pandemics require us to cooperate and compromise until the danger subsides, but apps offer a different approach: They merge the need to isolate with a celebration of convenience, as though having our access to the world mediated by tech companies were the silver lining.

Jack says:

The author is saying that normally, what we need to do is to cooperate and compromise. But these apps let us isolate and celebrate the convenience of having these apps as if it were a good thing. You’re isolated so you can get your own food with a tap of a button.

It also says the word “silver lining.” You may not know exactly what that means, but it’s suggesting that there’s some positivity in a gloomy kind of situation.

[08:06] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

Already, apps excel at offering private, individualized solutions to collective problems that urge us to participate in exploiting one another.

Jack says:

The word “exploiting one another” is not a good thing. The author here again is saying that apps excel at offering private individualized solutions. But really, it’s just exploiting each other.

'Exploitation is not a good word. So if you see that word, you know it's a negative tone.'Click To Tweet

[08:48] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

As subways crumble and housing prices reach stupendous heights, we get apps that ration car rides and single-bedroom efficiencies.

Jack says:

The author here is painting this picture of the world crumbling around us, but we have apps to get cheap rides and cheap rooms.

[09:09] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

But Covid’s wake may bring a maturation and hybridization of these systems as part of tech companies’ broader agenda: to serve as gatekeepers and toll collectors capable of extracting profit from “identity management,” resource allocation, and access control long after this pandemic has passed.

Jack says:

The author is painting this picture of what COVID is doing, which is the maturation and hybridization of the system. It’s suggesting that COVID sort of expedited this process. It helps them get to their point faster, which is their end goal being this exploitation.

[10:16] Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

Such systems — which will link insurance, health, financial, and advertising data to profile us against our will (much as credit rating companies have for decades) — already may determine the cost of your car insurance premiums, what job ads you see, and whether or not you will be offered bail.

Jack says:

The author is talking about a dystopian future of how all of this tech is going to hurt us.

[10:48] Paragraph 3, Sentence 5

But they may ultimately come to administer our access to everything we associate with the freedom of urban life.

Jack says:

The tech companies are going to be our access to everything. That’s the whole moral of the story that the author has been painting wherein we come to depend on them.

[11:26] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

When a 2012 Microsoft patent filing posited a method for taking “the user through neighborhoods with violent crime statistics below a certain threshold,” it spurred a flurry of articles about whether such a project was racist.

Jack says:

There’s a little twist here from apps and what they’re doing to us to different technology and what it potentially has done.

[12:05] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

Yes, it was, but the bigger picture is how crime data may be used alongside data on purchasing histories, demographic information, and land prices to dictate where people live their lives.

Jack says:

The last paragraph alluded to this – the data stuff. And it’s suggesting that when we use all these apps for all these different purposes, these companies have a much better idea of who you are. And they’ll target you and take advantage of you in that way as well. So it’s not just the people that are doing the jobs, but deeper than that – you’re being exploited.

[13:02] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

For example, the patent also described displaying in-car advertisements (“stop at a highway exit for a cup of coffee”) and then monitoring the driver to see if they made that purchase, so that the advertiser could be charged for the ad conversion.

Jack says:

More of the data gathering here.

[13:22] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a driver originating from a poor part of town is steered with ads for rent-a-centers, check cashing, and fast food, or one in which a black-owned business is charged double for an ad conversion because there was an armed robbery in the vicinity two days ago.

Jack says:

The author here is talking about the negative consequences and the bad things that people can do with this data, exploiting people.

[14:01] Paragraph 4, Sentence 5

And so on.

Jack says:

This suggests there are more and more examples out there.

[14:05] Paragraph 4, Sentence 6

The various inputs that go into the value of a location for a particular transaction can be assessed and prices adjusted accordingly in a matter of minutes instead of years.

Jack says:

It’s about the power of data and how fast we can move with it. So it’s definitely a problem. The author is shaping these software companies as something that we have to really think about and assess.

[15:23] Main Idea

The passage is pretty straightforward. The author made it pretty clear in the second sentence that something was very negative about the author’s tone here.

But take note that the point shifted. It wasn’t just exploiting these workers or the people who work for the app companies. It’s also discussing how we’re being exploited and the social consequences of these apps. So you may get questions on either one and they both seem to be important.

Links:

Meded Media

Jack Westin

Link to the article:

https://reallifemag.com/subscriber-city/

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