Imagine you being the product

In the digital world the product is often a private individual, something that is increasingly important to consider as our everyday products become connected. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but we need a broader debate about how our digital lives are shaped, says Mattias Allring, a consultant at Cybercom.

Every day, private individuals leave hundreds of digital footprints that are gathered, processed, resold and used by companies. The aim is not to cause harm – it is a way to optimally adapt activities and offerings to the individual and their needs. Sometimes to offer something. Sometimes to sell something about that person to someone else. Always to adapt the world to the individual and the data they leave behind.

“The digital world has begun to entwine itself around us as individuals,” says Mattias Allring. “It adapts and plays customised versions of reality. Your world is no longer the same as mine.”

And this is just the beginning. The next major developmental step will be for virtually everything to be connected to the internet. Your shoes, your milk carton, your flowerbed. Each new piece of your life and your surroundings is an opportunity to develop new services for you.

“The technology already exists to realise many of the online world utopias. Your new connected car could, technically, already support behaviour-based day-to-day insurance, with premiums set according to how you actually drove yesterday. And your online health monitor could be used together with the content of your fridge to determine the life insurance offered by your insurer,” explains Mattias.

As a result of all that the connected world offers us, we will probably live longer, reduce our stress, have more time with our family, get more exciting job offers, live more sustain­ably and be able to afford more. The downside is that we do not know in what context the data will pop up and shape our lives.

“I believe, for example, that within a few years it will be possible to automatically make the first shortlist of job applications by examining how truthfully the applicant describes themselves. The right customer will receive the red carpet treatment, but those who do not fit the template will be rejected in many ways,” says Mattias.

To participate in shaping the future, we need to set in motion a broader debate about what is happening in the connected world, so that we as a society can be involved in shaping it.

“The most important thing we can do as advisors is to extrapolate the trend. Demonstrate the logic, enlighten decision-makers who own the ethical decisions by putting the picture in a broader context for them, and getting them to understand the consequences, not just economically but also ethically. Our role as advisors is to help decision-makers to make informed decisions. We have a social responsibility to help all of society to anticipate the risks and opportunities of the future.”

Whistleblowing stopped activity bracelet

An article by Mattias Allring in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, debating “Data from your activity bracelet is an insurer’s dream” had an impact in Sweden and internationally. In Finland, it was picked up by television news channel YLE Nyheter, which discovered that a Finnish insurance company was gathering user data from its policyholders with an activity bracelet it had sent out, in order to provide tailored products, just as Mattias Allring had predicted in his article. The insurer stopped collecting the data following YLE’s report.

"We need to set in motion a broader debate about what is happening in the connected world."

Mattias Allring, consultant at Cybercom.