Our digital world delivers convenience aplenty. Email. Websites. 4G. 5G. Alexis. Siri. Cortana. Ask Google, Order from Amazon. Check friends on Facebook. Make contacts on Linkedin. Instant access everywhere.
But it’s a two-way street. You get the convenience. They get your data. And nearly all the “theys” are big.
Is that such a bad thing? After all, nothing is for free. There is always a trade off. Whether that suits or not, is for you to decide.
Organisations knowing lots about you can be a good thing. It can help them to help you. Companies all over the world are gathering data about you every day. In many cases, it’s to help them better understand your interests so they can offer products and services designed to help you.
But in many cases they are gathering data to help others as well. And those others might not have your interests at the top of their list. They will have their own interests. And their interests and your interests may not align.
Insurance companies, banks, debt collectors, telecommunications companies, scammers, credit card companies, IT companies.
And you won’t even know. Until an application you make is knocked back.
There is a good and a bad side to the new digital world. It is still early days and still time to consider convenience versus control of destiny.
The internet was created as a distributed network of communication nodes, so that if any one of them was destroyed in a war, communications could still be routed through the network.
It was created as a distributed network. Deliberately so.
Increasingly today, online services are being centralised and aggregated, with data being gathered in one place, for one big corporate or multinational. Deliberately so.
We appreciate the convenience. But do we really understand the increasing shift in control? For control of destiny affects us at many levels. Both today in our businesses and regions, and increasingly on into the future. Affecting us, our kids and grandkids.
Affecting control of destiny for a person.
Control of destiny for a company or an organisation.
Control of destiny for a country.
And control of destiny for the regions we live in.
To control our own destiny we need to be able to navigate and steer. We need to be able to see. We need to choose the direction we want to go in. And we need indicators of direction and speed.
Without measurement and decision tools we are helpless.
We all rely to a greater or lesser extent on government and non-government agencies, which measure things. In Australia we have the ABS, which produces research reports on many things. One thing the ABS measures is employment.
The figures that the ABS produces are used to justify all sorts of things – political commentary, insight and wisdom or otherwise, whether now is the right time to raise interest rates or otherwise, whether the policy decisions of a variety of government departments are working or otherwise, and so on.
Most of the time, people just accept these figures without question and get on with life. But there is a good reason to have a closer look at how these estimates are created and whether they are valid, misleading, helpful, hopeful or otherwise.
There is good reason to suspect otherwise. Roy Morgan spells out why this may be so, and it is worth reading what is said. Because there is a big difference between the unemployment estimates claimed by government and the unemployment and underemployment estimates from Roy Morgan.
Based on experience, I trust the Roy Morgan estimates. You can make your own decision.
Is it 5.5% unemployment or is it 9.8% unemployment? Is the current total of unemployment and underemployed close to 20% or not?
Because 20% is a problem, and in a digital revolution “it all joins up”.
An article in the Australian by Martin North at the weekend, suggests that mortgage rates in Australia are on the way up, because Australian banks raise 30% of capital from overseas. And those rates are on the way up and we will follow.
We also have a high level of household debt, with one million households experiencing cash flow issues and in mortgage stress (even though interest rates are at rock bottom). So what happens when rates go up, as they will this year?
Property prices are set to fall by between 10% and 20% this year. So it doesn’t take a great brain to work out what waits ahead for a million households later this year. And why the real employment figures are important.
Because steadily increasing unemployment and underemployment leads to less income, more debt, more financial stress, and then a fall and possibly a crash, as unemployment and underemployment continues to put ever more strain on households.
Employment, underemployment, wages, interest rates, mortgage options and household debt are effectively a house of playing cards, all connected and reliant on each other. Are playing cards in control of their destiny?
Add continuing digital disruption to that picture and the house of cards doesn’t look very stable at all. And this is equally true in the US, the UK and elsewhere.
We benefit greatly from agencies that manage weights and measures, facts and figures. Rather than stripping money out of the ABS, as governments have continually done, money should be pouring into the ABS so that we have a trusted source of information to rely on, providing signposts that give direction with reliable indicators attached – estimates, percentages and reports.
In the absence of reliable data, we are driving into the fog.
Control of destiny? For our country, I think not.
By default, the blind lead the blind. Financial advisors don’t have a clue. We are constantly advised to speak to a financial advisor, but who is advising us to do this and do financial advisors know what they are talking about anyway? Do they do their own research or rely on the same figures politicians use?
They use the figures the politicians use.
We already know that most “so called” financial advisors are little more that spruikers for banks – 80% of them. And a royal commission is about to look into that, because so much advice was biased and misleading.
What is the real state of the housing market? Real estate agents won’t tell you. The two major newspaper chains won’t tell you, because they both have a vested interest in “good news” stories on the property market, with one newspaper owning Real Estate.com and the other newspaper owning Domain.com. Why are we not surprised to see so many positive stories on how this is a great time for property investment (always), and so few on stories warning of the impending fall (crash).
Well you can work that one out for yourself.
Now, why am I harping on about something so obvious as vested interest?
Because in a time of considerable disruption, we need insight, research and business intelligence like never before.
And who is gathering the data that can generate those insights? The wrong people and organisations. Woolworths, Coles, American Express, Amazon, Linkedin, Facebook, Google, Apple, Banks, Insurance companies and the rest.
Siphoning up data and information on everything that moves. To sell us things. And avoid selling us other things.
Measurement is an important part of the society we live in. It is inextricably joined to control of destiny. No measurement = no control of destiny.
The kilometre is a unit of length equal to one thousand metres. On the 8th of May 1790, the Constituent assembly ordered the French Academy of Sciences to develop a new measurement system. Why? To create a standard that could be universal, common, trusted and uniform.
This may seem obvious to us today, but standards enable trade. Standards enable trust. Standards enable measurement and prediction. Which is why it would be really useful to have commonly accepted, reliable facts and figures regarding employment and underemployment in Australia.
It would help us to plan and create policy. It would help us to make decisions.
5% unemployed = one decision. Close to 20% unemployed or underemployed = another decision.
40% of jobs predicted to disappear over the next 20 years. The results of our 50,000 surveys suggest that percentage may be a little low, with digital disruption seriously disrupting the businesses and organisations and even sectors that provide the jobs in the first place.
Which will seriously disrupt the expectations of children and parents in a school system still teaching for the disappearing world.
Current data and information is useful.
It can help in control of destiny. Of course, we can’t control everything. We may not even be able to control very much. But to control what we can control, we need to be in control of the data and information that pertains to us.
Now, much of the data gathered every time you use a smart card, a loyalty program, a website, a credit card, a social media site, a mobile phone is gathered by the company concerned based on a contract, that you accepted, either having read it in full, or most likely not having read it at all, but accepted anyway.
In most of those agreements, you agree that your data can be used to help you in some way, but also that your data can and will be shared with other companies and organisations for commercial purposes.
In many cases the company concerned will state that your data is now their data, because “your” data had been reconfigured, rearranged of reconstituted in some way to become ‘their” data.
The company may also state that your data has been de-identified before sharing with others, and that only the aggregated data is being used.
There is a huge industry worldwide that has evolved around the re-identification of data, using public, private, purchased and in some cases stolen databases to compile complete or near complete profiles of individuals and their “private” details.
The spooks do this and we kind of expect that. That’s just the price we pay for living in the 21st century. But most if not all large multinationals and corporates also do this every day.
Is this free trade? Is this shared value? Are you giving your informed permission on how you want your data to be used and under what conditions? Probably not.
Nothing is free. Every time you access a free service, you pay with your data. Even when you access and use a service you pay for, you pay extra with your data.
So if you are a small company or organisation, how do you manage control of destiny in this new environment? What is to stop Australia, its businesses, regions and individuals losing control of destiny completely?
We know that our data is being used by multinationals and corporates for their benefit. How do we ensure that both individual and collective data can only be used for individual and collective benefit – for shared value and for the common good?
This territory is now starting to be explored, but we are light years behind the spooks, and years behind the multinationals and corporates.
So we need to start catching up.
For individuals, awareness is a good place to start. Think about what you do, about what you take for granted. Are you making informed choices about how your data is used?
Data can be used for good and for bad. It can be used for our benefit and convenience or for our detriment and exclusion. Data is political. Data is geopolitical. Who, in which countries is gathering your data and aggregating it?
Do you trust American companies more than Chinese companies? Amazon more than Alibaba? And why? Think about it. Data is geopolitical.
Blockchain is an interesting technology in this regard. Incorruptible, secure, encrypted, distributed with an ability to embed smart contracts to manage identity, rights, markets, IP, privacy and permissions. Blockchain provides a mechanism for managing shared value and the common good in a region or a sector, just at a time when it is evident that we need it.
Collaboration and sharing is important, but the interests of individuals and organisations should be defined and protected collectively, so that collaboration can lead towards control of destiny for regions, sectors and the organisations and individuals that live and work in them.
Which is what led us to start working on projects involving blockchain in the RED Toolbox. It is a natural progression in managing shared interest on a collaboration platform.
The RED Toolbox focuses on collaboration across productive industries. It focuses on helping to build capability in sectors and regions. It focuses on the future of work and jobs. It is both a “think tank” and a “do tank”.
And part of the “thinking” and the “doing” is the exploration of how blockchain can help regions (councils and RDAs) take control of their destiny, when they are expected to do so many new things with smaller budgets, while still managing “roads, rates, and rubbish” effectively.
We have just started working on a project to explore blockchain use in councils for the benefit of citizens in their region.
Sign up to the RED Toolbox – https://theredtoolbox.org – and join the Blockchain Projects for Councils group.
Read the post – How Blockchain can help councils – and let’s discuss.
And control of destiny is just as important for industry sectors. New challenges from technology, and new opportunities from technology are both destroying jobs. So over the next two months we are meeting with government departments, industry associations and corporates to explore how blockchain can help industry sectors evolve and at the same time protect the interests of everyone in the sector.
It is time to evaluate carefully the benefits of all “cloud” services including social media, and the pluses and minuses of use. Who owns the data created every time you use a service? Is the data being aggregated and shared for the greater benefit of you, your business, your council, your region and your country?
With Facebook, Linkedin, Woolworths or Coles. With Microsoft, Apple and your bank, credit card or insurance company…who is serving who? Is it really a shared value relationship or is it mostly one way?
Do the sources of information you use every day, have your best interests at heart?
It’s an interesting question. If you (and lots of others like you) generate the content, then who should share the rewards?
Social media platforms depend on content for visitors. For customers, business contacts, family and friends. You get the “likes”. The platform gets the advertising dollars.
The newspapers and media companies know what is going on only too well. After all they used to play the same game. Provide content (news), attract the “eyeballs” and sell advertising as a result. But the game and the rewards have shifted.
Newspapers and media companies still provide news, but a lot of it gets shared on social media platforms for free. So the newspapers provide the content and then get no reward for their efforts. The social platforms get the dollars.
So some newspapers respond by going more “tabloid”, sensational and “inventive” and still lose more customers every day. Real news replaced with fake and embroidered news.
And even more bizarre, the real news is then labeled as fake news by a president, and fake news is promoted as real in social media. Even George Orwell couldn’t have imagined how it would all turn out beyond 1984. Propaganda and misinformation on steroids.
In a world deluged with electronic information, who knows what is real or fake any more?
Who controls your destiny? The moon and the stars? The seers and prophets? The politicians and the multinationals? The social media platforms? Or just serendipity?
In our life we have no choices at the fundamental level. From birth, we head in one direction only – towards death and we do it one breath at a time. What we do on the way is where we seem to have some element of control through decisions that we make or don’t make, though there are many points of view on that subject.
But if control of destiny is an option, then it is all about the decisions we make.
And the decisions we make require data, information, insights and conclusions. For us to make plans, make informed decisions and take the right actions.
In your life, in your business, on your farm, in your factory, in your organisation, in your region, who controls the data and information that informs you?
Are you actively involved in deciding how your personal data is used, and how its value is shared? Is your industry association actively involved in managing and protecting the aggregated data generated through industry software platforms for the good of members, regions and the sector as a whole?
For control of destiny.
Is your local council deciding how regional data across all industry sectors in the region should be used for the economic benefit of the region for today and tomorrow? For the common good? For the region’s good?
In a joined up world, considerations and decisions don’t stop at the front door of an organisation. The multinationals and corporates know that. It’s now time for smaller organisations, councils, RDAs, associations and regions to act as well.
Convenience or control of destiny? It’s your call.