The new Google Photos, with its unlimited photo storage but also its creepy implications, is the latest example of the trade-offs that have come to dominate the era of smart appliances, social media, and Big Data.
How much of our personal data are we willing to give up to the big technology companies in the name of convenience? And what do they do with that data?
A comic book called Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data, created by journalist Michael Keller and nonfiction cartoonist Josh Neufeld and published by Al Jazeera America, illustrates — literally — some of what we give up when we give companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google all of our personal data.
Terms of Service debuted late last year as a free read on Al Jazeera America, and as of April of this year, you can pick up a physical copy at your hip local comic book store for $US10 — I snagged my copy from San Francisco’s essential Isotope Comics over the weekend.
It starts in San Francisco circa 2004, with ex-Vice President Al Gore and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page defending advertising in Gmail — which scans your email to show relevant advertisements — from California State Senator Liz Figueroa:
The authors go on to share compelling anecdotes about how data collection — like Progressive Auto Insurance pulling data from a car’s black box to offer lower insurance rates — can completely change industries:
And touches on how the connected future and these constant privacy issues affect our lives:
Terms of Service doesn’t provide any easy answers. The book doesn’t take a position about whether our modern privacy trade-offs are inherently good or bad — it even ends with one of the authors checking in on Foursquare in order to get a restaurant discount.
The authors did extensive research and interviews, complete with a bibliography in the back. For anybody who’s ever wondered what these companies do with your data, Terms of Service is a quick and accessible way to learn more about the issues.