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Facebook and Google: Show us your ad data

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By Cathy O'Neil

The internet, led by tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google, has been great at connecting us with products. It has been less good, however, at connecting us as a polity. It's time we started imagining what an internet optimized for the citizen would look like.

I'm a plus-sized woman, and when I was pregnant with my first son in 1999, finding maternity clothes was a pain. The maternity shops didn't have my size, and the plus-size shops didn't sell maternity clothes. By the time I was pregnant with my third son in 2008, the internet offered all I needed - very cheaply and with quick delivery.

We've made a trade. In exchange for commercial surveillance and data collection, we have the world's best at-home mall. And just as my friends and I used to socialize at the mall when we were teenagers, nowadays we socialize online in commercial spaces like Facebook and Twitter. The stores around us, informed by our digital profiles, magically transform to meet our needs and desires. We have the tailored internet experience.

This happy story has exceptions. Predatory industries use the same profiling technology to locate folks desperately in need of money or vulnerable to gambling pitches and sell them things they shouldn't buy. But in large part, we're in consumer nirvana.

The dark side of this revolution is that data collected for one use can be repurposed for another. Our marketing silos are information silos, too. Thanks to our tailored experiences, we barely share a common reality with people who disagree with us.........

© New Zealand Herald