Ollie's Modern Life

This month, Ollie Peart has a hot take on Big Data.


I’m being followed. My every move is being monitored and analysed. The person doing it is some fucked up crazed maniac who isn’t thinking about the consequences of their actions. Me. Yeah, you heard. I’ve been stalking myself. And you should too.

For the last couple of months I’ve set up my connected devices to track when I leave the house, when I go to bed, how many steps I take, where I go for a walk, tracked through GPS. My phone detects when I’m in a car and I’ve been logging every calorie that’s entered my mouth since February. I even log my mood, twice a day, every day. I’m obsessed. 

My fitness tracker feeds me charts and graphs everyday. It’s like a board meeting with myself to make sure that everything is ticking along nicely. If my oxygen saturation levels are down a percentage point, I’ll try and work out why. If my resting heart rate ticks up a BPM or two, I’ll have a word with the cardio dept to see what we can do about it. I can even tell you how many breaths I take in a minute and by how many degrees my skin temperature changed last night. 

My phone is set up so it can track every move I make. It knows when I leave the house and it knows when I get home. It geotags and logs every photo I take so I can tell you, for example, that on Monday 31st August 2020 at 11:56am I took a photo of a cow, four miles away from my house. It can also detect when I’m driving and if I’m in a car accident. It will call the emergency services and give them my blood type.

I’ve even had my DNA sampled and I get regular updates (based on new research) about what health conditions I may be susceptible to.

If someone really wanted to, they could use my data to find out what I ate on the day I took a picture of that cow, whether it scared me based on my heart rate at that time and if I was happy or sad afterwards. 

The stories we hear around personal data are normally to do with being targeted with ads. Your online behaviour is tracked and based on what you do, see, like or whatever, you’re then fed ads which are more likely to appeal to you. One view is to say you’re being targeted, but a schmoozer could easily say you’re getting a bespoke online experience. 

The real problem is how secure your data is. Almost every company you engage with online will hold some kind of data on you, and it’s pot luck as to how well they look after it. Your data could very easily be stolen, and companies are being hit more often than ever by cyber criminals trying to get their hack on. Once they get hold of it, they can use it to buy stuff in your name, or flog it to the highest bidder on the dark web.

It’s no wonder we’re all paranoid. But what about the good stuff?

My tracking addiction has changed my mind on personal data. I think we should all be tracked. Every little bit of us monitored, all of the time. It sounds like a plot line for some shonky, third rate episode of Black Mirror but just sit down and think about it for a minute. 

 I think we should all be tracked. Every little bit of us monitored, all of the time. 

Let’s say we were all tracked like me. We’ll make the assumption for a moment that the data collected is more secure than the whereabouts of my fucking keys, which keeps changing every 5 seconds. Basically, you’ll never find it. It’s safe as houses. Now lemme paint you a little picture.

We’ve all been given fitness trackers like mine. It’d cost about 12 billion quid if you went for the super swanky version I’ve got. The NHS budget for 2020/21 was 212 billion. 

Gladys down the road has one. One day, she gets an alert on it. The device has noticed her heart rate variability has dropped off and this could be a sign she’s unwell. Rather than risk something getting worse, she’s urged to visit her GP. They find the problem, sling her some antibiotics and send her on her way. Left untreated she may have ended up in hospital and it would have cost a flipping fortune.

Here’s another one for you. Troy (fuck knows where I’m getting these names from) is driving home late one winter night. A rabbit runs out in the road and because Troy is a vegan, he swerves. Unfortunately for Troy he swerves straight into a tree, his car folds in half and he’s trapped, in the middle of nowhere. Luckily for Troy, his connected device knows he’s been in an accident and where, so alerts the emergency services to his location. While he waits for them to arrive to fix his shattered femur, Troy checks his emails and messages his wife to say he’ll be back in time for tea (he won’t).

Last one. You’re feeling tired. You don’t know why. You check your food intake and the other days we were feeling tired and see that it’s always on days you eat a fuck load of bread or pasta. You’re gluten intolerant, so after advice from your doctor you stop eating gluten. You’re feeling better than ever. Your boss noticed and promoted you. 

A bit far fetched maybe, but becoming my own personal stalker has made me hyper-aware of how I am. Back in the day I could ask myself how I am, but now I can see how I am, and it’s been brilliant. I’ve lost a bunch of weight, I’m eating better and sleeping better. Imagine if we could all do that? 

Extrapolate my experience with all 66 million of us living in the UK and just think of the potential impact that could have on people’s lives for the better? We need to stop thinking of data as a dirty word, it’s just what we use it for that needs to change. 

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