Have You Hugged Your iPhone Today?

[field date] | Letters

person holding iphone with image of man appearing to hug the phone screenAuthor: Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics

Have you hugged your iPhone today? Silly question, because of course you have. In fact, your iPhone was the last face thing you saw before you fell asleep and the first person thing you saw when you woke up. You may have even slept clutching the thing … but, hey, I’m not judging. The bottom line is that everything is on that phone. It’s really mostly misnamed at this point since you seldom use it to actually make calls, but it does hold the keys to your life from financials to different ways of communication (especially during COVID-era adaptations when everything about our life is somehow based online — if you’re not online, you’re left behind).

We in agriculture seem to argue a lot about data privacy issues. I’m guilty of repeating in class, in seminars and in general conversation my own concern — that while we’re busy arguing about who owns the data, someone else is getting busy figuring out how to actually use it (For what it’s worth, my bet is on the people working hard on use over those debating ownership of the raw input every time.).

Commonly heard in agricultural circles are comments like, “But it’s my data!” and, “I’m not sharing my data!” But in reality, the vast majority of us are very ‘cheap dates’ in regard to sharing our personal data, so to speak. If we’re really honest, the cat is mostly out of the bag here in the data argument, and it isn’t going back in. It doesn’t take much in the way of value creation before we’re clicking “I agree” on app and software user agreements, generating data galore and sharing it freely.

Everyone likes to hate Facebook; we point fingers and make faces about its supposed ‘misuse’ of our personal data. But if you aren’t paying for the service (your Facebook account is indeed free), then you have to realize that you are the product being sold. That’s simply true. And you agreed to it; it was in the terms of service. This wasn’t some elaborate scheme played out behind your back (or my back). We willingly post photos of ourselves and our kids, probably without protecting the location or time the photo was taken, which is a massive privacy issue that we all simply ignore. We willingly share data galore, seemingly because what we get in exchange — the product or service that is the result of the use of that data — is deemed valuable enough to us to make it worthwhile to share.

How does your iPhone know how many minutes you are from home? Actually, how did it even know you were heading towards home as you pulled out of the parking lot at work? Not only did iPhone know where you wanted to go, but he/she also knew how long it would take to get there. And so you smiled back at iPhone lovingly because he/she knows you oh so well…actually, it was Apple Watch you smiled at. Apple Watch, with the brains and memory of the iPhone plus your pulse rate and other fun biological data, but that’s a letter subject for another time.

Back to the agricultural industry core question again — why are you so worried about protecting your data? Why aren’t you more worried about how to use it? Simply some food for thought. Now, go check your iPhone…

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