Digital avatars, simulations and genetic material

May 20, 2019 | Blog, Technology | 1 comment

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends about the threat of digital intrusions. How far will you let the perception of convenience justify your personal vulnerability? Is it too much work to care about how corporations are using the data we trade for access to their latest time saving/consuming application or service? Does it require to much of our bandwidth to actually go back and limit personal access? Maybe it’s easier to believe that there isn’t possibly anything in your life that they will find interesting.

Are they looking for interesting? Are are they seeking anything in particular? What if they are only harvesting data points to sell or lease them? Or they could be building a digital avatar of you that gains definition with every input.

These are all important questions that I fear too few of us are asking.

Checking the box

Another aspect of the business of data is that what they are harvesting now could be used for something different later. That is the problem with the evolving culture of privacy policies. They are so difficult to understand that we mostly forgo reading them. When was the last time you agreed to what was in the privacy policy? Let me put this another way, when you check the box, are you agreeing to the privacy policy or are you agreeing that you want the perceived benefits of the service and you cannot access unless you check the box?

Privacy policies change and we have to update our agreement with them. When they do, what has changed? Why? What is the difference between the new agreement and the old one? Do we even know?

This comes up again for me after reading a Global News article about the explosion of DNA collection and testing. We buy the sales pitch because deep down we all want to know who we are and where we come from. We are curious about the genetic material, the code, that makes each one of us our beautiful unique selves.

Collecting points

Think of each privacy policy you sign as a data set. Each set is harvesting in real time data points. It might be a collection of markers from your mobile phone’s health or habit application. Or it is the purchase history of your credit card. Throw in your web search and browser history. Independently, this information is only a bit useful but once there are sets layering on top of each other and now add a person’s genetic information as well…

The level of exposure to the real-world you is incalculable and it does not require much of an imagination to create scenarios where countless of remarkably accurate digital avatars of you are running endless simulations and generating a prediction of what you did seconds before you did it. Consider the impact that such a predictive capacity can have on influencing or outright manipulating the decisions you make. What could be done with the information of what you are likely to do or the set of circumstances that need to be in place to create a different outcome. Free will?

This is just paranoid, conspiratorial fear-mongering you say! The result of the over-active mind of someone listening to too many podcasts. Perhaps. It is not my desire to fear-monger or engage in conspiracy theories. If I can craft these ideas on my mobile phone while on my Sunday walk, then imagine what sophisticated, profit-motivated computer engineers do with these postulations. They are opportunities to grow their corporations’ market cap.

Hearing footsteps

Our decisions on how to protect our digital selves make us vulnerable. It’s probably because we can’t hear the footsteps echoing in the alley behind us or the hairs on the back of our necks are not standing up because we cannot sense a threat lurking in the shadows. Where are the shadows? They are so abstract we do not have the skills to even perceive them. We are like toddlers stumbling out of the cave surrounded by Sabre-tooth tigers.

My goal with this post is to encourage all of us to develop these new skills to perceive danger quickly and sharpen our instincts. I have no idea what race we are running but I am fairly sure “they” have a head start.

I think it is important at this point to acknowledge my role as an elected person with the responsibility of regulating and enforcing the protection of the public interest. Governments have been slow to respond and even slower to act and this needs to change. So I also scribe this post as a political marker as well, noting that we must do much better in this area!

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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1 Comment

  1. Jacob Enns

    What about someone or a group building a version of tech and apps that safeguard our privacy, that does what we need but keeps us anonymous?
    I believe this movement has started…
    Best defense is still building a strong face to face conscious (meditation and mindfulness) community that becomes a sea anchor in this race to influence us.
    Warm regards,



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