If I told you that everything you do online and a lot of what you do offline is somehow, somewhere recorded, you wouldn’t be surprised. It’s old news. So old that most of us don’t really care anymore, and while we may occasionally shake our heads in feigned disbelief when someone brings this up in a conversation, we’ve generally just accepted it. I’ve generally accepted it. And then I saw this Experian ad.
Knowing your data self
All in all, the whole campaign is clever. It feeds on some deeply-rooted dreams and fears, it has some funny shots, and of course it features a soothing female voice. This is how we normalise somewhat creepy data collection. All your transactions, your purchases, your good and bad choices create your data self that follows you everywhere you turn, it’s a fact, so there, just get used to it. And if you work on your relationship with your data self a bit, you may even become friends. So far so good, I’m still within the safe waters of just accepting that I have a data doppelganger and I, the old physical I, am not enough to get a credit card, a mortgage, or even a phone contract. I know I sound cynical, but bear with me.
The idea behind Experian’s ad and part of their business model is that many decisions are now based on data so it’s better for consumers to know their data selves to avoid nasty surprises. If a bank wants to see your data to see whether you can be given a mortgage, you want to know what they’re going to see. What if you forgot to pay this small bill a few years ago and it’s going to lower your score? What it you’re overdue on a payment and it would be better if you paid it off before applying? Experian can give you a million of reasons why you’d want to know your data self. In the world of “show me your data and I’ll tell you if you can get this loan”, you want to know what you’re about to reveal.
Changing your data self
But let’s entertain this thought a bit further. We know it’s not just our financial transactions, overdue bills and credit history that’s being tracked. If you have a fitness tracker from your health insurance company, they’re most likely counting your steps too, and in case you’re falling behind, they’ll up your premium. If you leave your house, you’ll be recorded on a dozen CCTV cameras before you reach the nearest tube station. In general (and as proposed by Rob Kitchin in “The Data Revolution”), there are three types of data that can be recorded about us: directed data (explicitly meant to record what people are doing, like CCTV), automated data (the end goal is something else, but data is just recorded, like when you make a transaction), and volunteered data (all these tasty calories you enter in your food tracking app, for example. So to know your data self, you’ll want to know all these three sources.
Now, you know your data self isn’t great. It’s not going to get you that car or that mortgage. What do you do next? If you know your premium will increase if you don’t get 10,000 steps a day, what do you do? Do you dutifully walk until you reach the goal, or do you…
So, if you know they’ll judge you on your data self, will you change yourself, or will you change your data self? Let me know in comments!