It’s been said many times: “If the product is free, YOU are the product.”
Years ago when television was first broadcast into people’s homes over the air, it was a novelty for many reasons, writes soybean grower Brandon Wipf at PrecisionAg. The range of entertainment options available without having to leave the couch was so good, people changed their entire lives around it. TV dinners were invented so that you didn’t miss a single moment.
More interesting in my view: the cost. Free. Television was broadcast to everyone — all you had to do was tune your set to the correct channel. How could the TV networks afford to pay actors a king’s ransom and put on grand productions when we were all watching them for free? Simply put, the television programming wasn’t the product. We were.
Companies paid the networks for the opportunity to present their products to American eyeballs. Their hope was to influence enough people to buy their wares that they would cover the cost of the advertisements and then some. It must have worked pretty well because — even though I have been describing the situation in the past tense — it’s all still happening today, especially online.
Today’s web advertisers have a huge advantage over their “Mad Men” ancestors. By using data gathered from our home or business address, internet habits, purchase history and more, advertisers can hone in on a specific audience that they feel will yield a higher rate of success. It’s a big win for businesses that don’t have to waste resources on “infertile soil,” so to speak. It is also a big win for customers who aren’t bombarded with ads that are not relevant to them. If I must sit through a 30-second ad, my preference would be for that time to not be completely wasted but rather focus on something in which I am interested.
This advantage makes the information that tech companies like Facebook and Alphabet (Google) have about each one of us quite valuable. How valuable? $Trillions. They have the means to deliver specific content and advertisements to exactly the audience that will be the most receptive. When used properly, the use of data is incredibly effective. Unfortunately, we don’t always know who has access to that data or understand how our data will be used.
Armed with the knowledge that our data have value, we must recognize that we are primarily responsible for controlling what those data include and who can use it. While the companies collecting your data and the firms using it to reach you may not wish you harm, we should remember that ultimately, their interest is in making money. How we fit into the process is and should be up to us.
This is why it is so important that all of us in agriculture be aware of the mountains of data that we are creating each and every growing season.