Mar 18, 2015 · 2 minutes

The Guardian has an interesting report about how Twitter hopes to use its data to create a world where #brands are able to learn as much about their @audiences as possible.

Chris Moody, the company’s data science chief, talked to the Guardian about how he hopes Twitter’s data might be used in the future:

'Twitter gives this fascinating ability to understand people in context like we’ve never been able to do before. It’s not ‘I know that Chris Moody is a 48-year-old male’ – which is how we’ve thought about marketing in the past – but ‘I understand that Chris Moody is dealing with the death of a parent because he’s talking about it on this public platform’,’ he said, adding that a Twitter user has in effect said: ‘I’ve stepped up to the microphone and I’ve said I want the world to know that this thing is happening in my life.’
According to the report, the things uttered into Twitter’s microphone might help companies reach more specific people; allow police to learn more about a crowd; and enable many other kinds of data analysis few could’ve imagined possible years ago.

The first thing I thought of when I read the Guardian’s report was actually a story from a recent issue of Wired in which Cliff Kuang describes Disney’s attempts to create a smart theme park.

This theme park is enabled partly through wristbands that monitor visitors’ every move and partly through the itinerary they create online to best experience the magic kingdom. The result, as Kuang makes clear in his piece, feels like, well, magic.

Restaurants know where patrons are sitting. Hostesses know who’s approaching the joint before they even enter its grounds. The entire park knows who’s wearing a wristband, what they want to do at Disney World, and how they’re going to pay for it. The result, as Kuang notes in the introduction to his piece:

No matter how often we say we’re creeped out by technology, we tend to acclimate quickly if it delivers what we want before we want it. This is particularly true of context-aware technology. Just consider how little anyone seems to mind now that the Google Maps app mines your Gmail. Today, Google Maps is studded with your location searches, events you’ve arranged with friends, and landmarks you’ve chatted about. It’s delightful, and it took hold faster than the goosebumps could. The utility seems so obvious, your consent has simply been assumed.
Moody said something similar to the Guardian. The idea that people wouldn’t want companies or law enforcement to be able to use their Twitter data seems absurd. How could their consent be anything but assumed if it’s collected from a public forum and used to create better, more personalized experiences for people?

That isn’t a slippery slope: it’s a sheer cliff lathered up with Astroglide and melted butter. Not everyone who speaks in public wants their lives to be picked apart by companies looking to improve their advertisements or products. Nor does everyone who uses Google Maps want to contribute to Google’s constellation of human activity. Uninformed consent isn’t really consent at all.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]