– A story about the future of apps and the future of user privacy –
Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, eBay are just some of the apps we use on a daily basis. These apps assist us on our daily routine of our modern lives. They can provide information, social interaction, and cater to our needs and wants. They know us, almost as well as we know them.
Because nothing is really free on the world wide web, these apps also need their fair share of our daily exchange. We use these apps for our own purpose and the apps begin to “know us”. More precisely, know more about us. In general the end game is to sell us something. The more it knows about us, about our behavior, desires and needs the easier it is to make us buy something.
Of course, nobody is really making you buy a certain product, if you don’t want it or need it. However, some cases are questionable, or even abusive. A friend was telling me about a TV show which was addressing this topic exactly. She was telling me about how companies make a business out of collecting and selling personal user information. And gave me creepy example of a case where a home security company was using personal user information to target their ads to users who were rape victims. We come to a point where we ask ourselves if our decisions are conscious or if they are the product of our cyber exploitation.
China, is apparently in lead when it comes to “knowing their users”. Due to thesheltered internet dictated by their country’s government they have created their own version of the internet. All the apps that we know and love, have been replicated in China’s internet. At their early stages these apps were regarded as rip-offs, however with the launch of WeChat (or Weixin in Mandarin Chinese) things are taking an interesting turn.
WeChat is a new breed of app that can do what WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Uber, Amazon, Tinder can do, and more. Users can make appointments to hospitals, order & pay for food, invest money, order a cab and my personal favorite, heat maps that show you how crowded a place is. The list can go on. Imagine doing all of the things you normally do on the internet in just one app. Now imagine the amount of data and metadata WeChat is collecting.
In a country where everyone shares everything this is very appealing for the government as well…
Johan Kessel and Paul Mazur of The New York Times talk about this issue in this cool video:
What is interesting to see, is that companies from the US are liking the idea of one app to rule them all. Companies like Facebook, are now starting to copy this concept. It seems like WeChat is a glimpse of the future.
The intention of this article is not to emphasize only on the the negative aspects of what this can bring. I acknowledge the many benefits of having such an app, and it’s needless to say how it can simply our lives. However I think that knowing the bad side of the story, not just what they sell us is important to making a conscious decision. A well informed decision is a conscious decision.