Big data, small issue?
On the 2nd of August 2016, Facebook-owned Instagram rolled out a new extension of their already popular social network platform called Instastories. Media and netizens alike took to the internet to comment on the uncanny resemblance between Snapchat, which was steadily increasing in growth and expected to surpass twitter and pinterest at the end of 2016, and the Instagram’s Instastories. Fast forward a year to 2017, Instastories has beat Snapchat at its own game, leaving the company to perhaps focus more their spectacles and their rebranding as a camera company. It should be noted that it was also not long before Facebook tested and released their own version, Facebook Stories, assisting them in embellishing the platform along with Facebook Live which we witnessed inadvertently play a major role in revealing several cases of police brutality and unlawful conduct.
One can see that real time video updates are the culture adopted by these social media giants. So what if tech giant Google were to also throw its hat in the ring? Google has launched and failed at their answer to social media with multiple endeavors. Now it seems that Google is testing the waters of real time updates with video features on their Google Maps extension.
“Local guide”, Google’s program that allows users to gain points for sharing their reviews, photos, and knowledge on Google Maps, is now adding Google video reviews as part of their service. This enables users to upload a 10 second video from the Google Maps app or a thirty second video from their camera roll. With the limited time users must remember to keep it short and sweet. As of the present time, the service is only available on the Android platform where users can search and select a location in Google Maps and hold the camera icon to record a video. Previously users could only upload images on the program which would not be able to capture the ambience or the atmosphere of the location (for example a restaurant or a café), which would definitely be beneficial for businesses. Interestingly several businesses have started utilizing the service to highlight their menu items or the location.
This is great news for the masses as they are now able to share their reviews effortlessly via a video that will update in real time. Businesses will also benefit from employing the function to showcase their products, all from a mobile platform. Though it seems that some have further recognized the potential of the Google Maps video function. Will the establishment of Google Maps’ real time video function bring on the possibilities of augmented reality (AR) to the new era of search?
During this year’s Google I/O developer conference, the company announced a new technology called Google Lens. The product basically uses AI technology and Google’s computer vision to help you identify items just by pointing your smart phone’s camera at them. Now according to the aforementioned article, with the pairing of Google Maps video function and programs like Tango which use motion tracking, area learning and depth perception, Google could track and trace consumers via Google Maps’ video all the way to the cash register. If carried through to its conclusion, the combination of Google Maps’ video function and Google Lens could realize significant change in the day to day facets of searching.
The easiest way to understand the possible implications of this combination is by comparing it to the technology mentioned in this video.
As you can see in the video, the technology that is already in use today could be similar to the combination of Google Maps video and Google Lens. Imagine the endless possibilities, mundane annoyances such as looking for your car in the carpark or finding specific groceries could be eliminated. Businesses could add interactive elements to highlight promotions, speculate a waiting time at the cashier for the customers or even announce the delivery of fresh products in store. It could mean exciting things for tourism as well, enabling interactions with historical attractions or landmarks, or simply provide an (AR-based) version of directions, showing directions and distances in real time without checking a map.
However, despite all the advantages that this new technology brings there are also inherent concerns. Primarily big data and privacy. In order to share video reviews using the Google Maps video function a consumer is enabling the tech giant to track them. Google will be updated on a consumer’s location, preferences, spending habits or even health. None of this is without precedent as the likes of company such as Facebook have proven to use GPS, beacons, and WiFi to track who is buying what and where after seeing a Facebook ad. It is also interesting to note that Facebook has gotten in trouble in the past with their Beacon project where it posted consumer’s purchases on their respective Facebook pages, notifying everyone in their friend list. The case was brought to court after one of the plaintiffs stated that Facebook ruined Christmas by notifying his wife and all of his friends about his surprise Christmas gift for her. Tech companies have also been known to sell this data to interested parties, from your local supermarket or a political party or even your healthcare provider.
Though the question is, are we too complacent about being monitored and tracked so intensely? As a generation of consumers that heavily relies on social media, we may be all too accepting of this not only due to the conditioning of the current social media sharing culture, but also because we don’t know any better. Media scholars such as Shoshana Zuboff warns on the use of the euphemism “big data”.
“The ugly truth here is that much of “big data” is plucked from our lives without our knowledge or informed consent. It is the fruit of a rich array of surveillance practices designed to be invisible and undetectable as we make our way across the virtual and real worlds. The pace of these developments is accelerating: drones, Google Glass, wearable technologies, the Internet of Everything (which is perhaps the biggest euphemism of all).” (Zuboff)
The problem with our complacency could lie with the general ignorance of just how much of our information is being tracked. A normal consumer would readily assume that their location is tracked, but would not go as far as to think that their full name, telephone number, home address, work address, credit card number, credit history, browsing habits, political preference, spending habits, time and duration spent at locations and even phone calls would be tracked as well (West 14). It seems that we as a generation of consumers are slowly waiting for naturalization to happen as we are judging the benefits of these technologies as outweighing the potential risks to our privacy. Naturalization of new media or new forms of technologies takes place after it is met with some anxiety or resistance (Mitchell and Hansen 174). Despite whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden revealing the extent to which we are tracked, as a society we appear to be fine with the premise of being tracked. This is evidenced by our full embracing of the advancement and birth of new tech such a Google Lens, Local Guides and of course Google Maps video. So as consumers it seems that we value the benefits and conveniences provided by these apps over the invasion of privacy and the monetization of data by big data.
However, as complacent as we are, there are many groups as well as government legislation which are being established, which argue strongly in favor of preservation of privacy and advocate against the monetization of data surveillance by these tech companies. Organizations such as the Center for Digital Democracy pride themselves with being at the forefront of this issue, raising awareness and protecting consumers in the digital age by researching and educating consumers on risks regarding the invasion and exploitation of consumer privacy. Recently, after news broke that Facebook has sold over several thousand ads to Russian operatives during the American election campaigns last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated on his Facebook page that the social media platform will strive at being more transparent regarding political advertising. What is even more interesting is that another tech giant, Apple, has recently decided that they will be cutting down on how many cookies advertisers can force on your Apple devices. Will this mean transparency on every form of advertising from now onwards on the internet? Will the current or future generations of consumers ever stand up against data surveillance to the point of establishing a new standard surrounding big data and privacy? Perhaps just like the laws of naturalization, only time will tell.
Barna, Maxwell. “Instagram vs. Snapchat: How IG Stories Is Killing Snapchat.” Highsnobiety. Highsnobiety, 20 June 2017. Web. 21 Sept. 2017. <http://www.highsnobiety.com/2017/06/19/instagram-vs-snapchat/>.
Lardinois, Frederic. Google Is Bringing Video Reviews to Google Maps. Digital image.Techcrunch. Techcrunch, 14 Sept. 2017. Web. 16 Sept. 2017. <https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/14/Google-is-bringing-video-reviews-to-Google-Maps/>.
GmbH, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Shoshana Zuboff: A Digital Declaration.” FAZ.NET. FAZ.NET, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2017. <http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/the-digital-debate/shoshan-zuboff-on-big-data-as-surveillance-capitalism-13152525.html>.
West, Sarah Myers. “Data Capitalism: Redefining the Logics of Surveillance and Privacy.” Business & Society (2017): 000765031771818. Web.
Mitchell, W. J. Thomas, and Mark B. N. Hansen. “12.” Critical Terms for Media Studies. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2010. 174. Print.