The returns from data-acquisition have been declining for years. In the early years of data-driven advertising, advertisers took it on faith that better targeting justified much higher ad-rates. Over time, some of that optimism has worn off, helped along by the fact that we have become adapted to advertising, so that targeting no longer works as well as it did in the early days. Recall that soap companies once advertised by proclaiming, ‘‘You will be cleaner, 5 cents,’’ and seem to have sold a hell of a lot of soap that way. Over time, people became inured to those messages, entering into an arms race with advertisers that takes us all the way up to those Axe Body Spray ads where the right personal hygiene products will summon literal angels to the side of an unremarkable man and, despite their wings, these angels all exude decidedly unangelic lust for our lad. The ads are always the most interesting part of old magazines, because they suggest a time when people were much more naive about the messages they believed.
But diminishing returns can be masked by more aggressive collection. If Facebook can’t figure out how to justify its ad ratecard based on the data it knows about you, it can just plot ways to find out a lot more about you and buoy up that price.
The next iteration of this is the gadgets that will spy on us from every angle, in every way, all the time. The data that these services collect will be even more toxic in its potential to harm us. Consider that today, identity thieves merge data from several breaches in order to piece together enough information to get a duplicate deed for their victims’ houses and sell those houses out from under them; that voyeurs use untargeted attacks to seize control over peoples’ laptops to capture nude photos of them and then use those to blackmail their victims to perform live sex-acts on camera; that every person who ever applied for security clearance in the USA had their data stolen by Chinese spies, who broke into the Office of Personnel Management’s servers and stole more than 20,000,000 records.
The best way to secure data is never to collect it in the first place. Data that is collected is likely to leak. Data that is collected and retained is certain to leak. A house that can be controlled by voice and gesture is a house with a camera and a microphone covering every inch of its floorplan.
The IoT will rupture notice-and-consent, but without some other legal framework to replace it, it’ll be a free-for-all that ends in catastrophe.