Mayors, Governors, And Lawmakers: Tech Companies Are Getting Rich Mining Your Constituents Data

It has been a fascinating and eye opening experience sitting at the intersection of tech startups and the web, mobile, and device applications they’ve built over the last decade. In 2010 I was captivated by the power of APIs to deliver resources to developers, and end-users. In 2018, I’m captivated by the power of APIs to mine end-users like they are just a resource, with the assistance of the developer class. A dominant white male class of people who are more than willing to look the other way when exploitation occurs, and make for the perfect “tools” to be exploited by the wealthy investor class.

While I do not have much hope for diversity efforts in tech, or the bro culture waking up, I do have hope for city and state/provincial lawmakers to wake up to the exploitation that is going on. I’ve seen hints of cities waking up to the mining that has been occurring by Facebook and Google over the last decade. The open exploitation and monetization of a city’s and state’s most precious resources–their constituents. While some cities are still swooning over having Amazon set up shop, or Facebook to build a data center, these company’s web, mobile, and device applications have infiltrated their districts been probing, mining, extracting, and shipping value back to offshore corporate headquarters.

You can see this occurring with Google Maps, which has long been a darling of the API community. We were all amazed at the power of this new mapping resource, something us developers could never have built on our own. We all integrated it into our websites, and embedded it into our mobile applications. We could use it to navigate and find where we were going, completely unaware of the power of the application to mine data from our local transit authorities, businesses, as well as track the location of all of us at each moment. Google Maps was the perfect trojan horse to invade our local communities, extract value, only leaving us with a handful of widgets and embeddable apps to keep us hooked, and working for the Google machine–always giving as little back as possible.

Facebook is probably the highest profile example, connecting our families and communities, while it also disrupted our local news, and information channels, as well as take control over our elections. While connecting us all at the local level, we failed to see we were being connected to the Facebook corporate machine, reminiscence of the Matrix movie of the 1990s. Now we are just mindlessly scrolling, clicking, and emotionally responding, where we are simultaneously being mined, tracked, influenced, nudged, and directed. Something that was once done out in the open for many years through a public API program, but is slowly being closed up and done privately behind closed doors, so that a new regulatory show can be performed to demonstrate that Facebook really cares.

I’m spending more time in Europe, having conversations with regulators and business leaders about a more sensible future driven by APIs. Having conversations with city leaders about the value of their data, content, and algorithms. Discussing the value of their constituents personal data, privacy, and security. Talking about the imperialist nature of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft, and how they invade, conquer, then extract value from our communities. Helping mayors, governors, and other lawmakers realize the value they have before it is gone, and helping them realize that they can take control over their digital resources using APIs, and gain an upper hand in the conversations that are already occurring across the web.