These past few articles we have read make me think somewhat differently about data collection methods and their implications in our personal lives and privacy. Whitson’s article takes data surveillance to a new level. Up to this point, we have discussed the implications of “big data” and how companies and corporations collecting massive amounts of data enable them to not only determine the kind of people we are but also predict our actions, capabilities, and interests. Whitson discusses how data can “operate under the umbrella of play, fostering a quantification of the self: collecting, collating, and analyzing minute data and providing feedback on how to better care for ones self”.

Unlike the kinds of dataveillance we have previously discussed which seek to understand our behavior in order to appeal to the consumer on a personal level for capital gain, Whiston reveals how the gamification of our personal data invites users to subscribe to a pre-established agenda seeking to not solely understand our behavior but determine it through the manipulation of our quantified selves. Whinston explains that “quantification relies on data collection, followed by visualization of this data and cross-referencing, in order to discover the correlations, and provide feedback to modify behavior”.

I believe Whinston hits several big points. One of the main ones being that when data collection is framed as a “game”, users perceive it as non-threatening, subjective, and even pleasurable. These data collection methods present themselves as tools to be used in order to keep track of and improve our personal lives by recording progress, setting goals, and giving positive and negative feedback encouraging certain behaviors. I know I would personally be more likely to enter personal information and day-to-day activity into my iPhone “health” app rather than giving personal information to a company website or even social media platforms such as facebook. The data I am allowing apple to record about me is initially seen as for my personal benefit, and that I am the one using it to encourage my progress and behaviors that will help me attain specific goals. However, regardless of how the data is initially fed back to me, Apple is still receiving intimate data about me every single day that could used for a various number of things.

This data “adds up” to Adam Carroll to anyone who sees it. Numbers and statistics represent my entire self to anyone viewing my quantified profile. As all of these tracking technologies advance, we are able to learn more and more about entire populations without talking to a single person. My entire life being translated into a sum of mathematics, graphs, and charts has implications that extend further than self-help and motivational goal setting. If a doctor could pull out a USB drive with data representing all of my physical activity, nutritional intake, thoughts and emotional stability, medical diagnosis would be revolutionized. As valuable as this information would be for positive medical reasons, it could be even more valuable for negative reasons. Serious intrusions of privacy and exploitation could occur with companies accruing and storing digitized people on their servers.

The initial thought of holding a quantified version of myself scares me, but it is also extremely intriguing. This picture speaks to me in a lot of ways. Although the self tracking devices currently on the market are used for self improvement in every day tasks, the technological world seems to be moving in the direction of essentially being able to plug a person in and importing all of their personal data. Data that can then be used to describe a person, define a person, market a person, manage a person, or even control a person. I think this technology and the direction it is going is much more than a game, and that we should all be careful with what we’re playing with.


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