February 15, 2021

CHEN | Why I Sign Away My Data

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Signing up for a grocery store rewards card, I’m hesitant to enter my real birthday. When asked for my name at Starbucks, I simply say my last name, ‘Chen’, instead of my first name — not just for fear of the mispronunciation. There are instances where using my real name, phone number or birthday feels like leaving my wallet out while going to the bathroom. However, the truth of the matter is that the internet probably already knows everything about me, from my shoe size to my preference in ice cream flavors.

Humans are always trying to learn more about ourselves, whether it’s through our personality type or Buzzfeed telling us what kind of condiment we are. For me, it was always looking forward to Spotify Wrapped. It only occupies a few minutes of my time annually, but adds a satisfying conclusion to a year of chronic music listening. Just for a day or two, everyone is posting about how they are in the top one percent of Khalid listeners, or what their top five genres are. It’s cool to have every piece of your Spotify history and playlist-making tracked. It’s cool to agree mindlessly to the terms and conditions and never think again about the tech conglomerates that can track every single one of your clicks. 

It’s all fun and games when it’s just about your music listening history. But, what about when you spit into a tube to have your DNA analyzed, only for it to be kept in a lab that may attempt to clone you in the future? Or, when you agree to screen time tracking, allowing each of your laptop interface histories to be kept forever and ever? Or, more commonly, how staring at a single TikTok for five seconds too long will cause your entire ‘For You’ page to be about the “drivers license drama epidemic? When does data sharing become a risk for you? Is it worth it?

For me, the potential risks of data sharing are worth the enhanced user experience and cool statistics, but we should still weigh these novelties against the risks.

There’s certain aspects to be cautious about, like how each time you agree to a new terms and conditions essay full of fine print, the tech giant behind can start asking for more and more. Your access to your own information is your right, and large tech companies shouldn’t be able to take advantage of your information to play mind games with you in your ads, recommended posts and news feeds.

However, there’s also a sense of customization for the user. The apps you use know you better and are able to cater to you. There’s more ease of use since they know what you want.

Additionally, like with Spotify Wrapped, you get to learn more about yourself — maybe it’s your exact ethnicity, your bad habits or your taste in content. Sometimes, it takes an outside perspective to allow you to learn more about your own identity and interests. If a simple data analysis that runs through your numbers and information is able to do that in a click of a button, why not?

So is it worth it to know that I’m in the top 0.5 percent of Joji listeners from Spotify Wrapped? To know that I’m 0.1 percent Filipino from Ancestry DNA?

To be honest, I would say yes. I’m still a Gen-Zer who grew up sharing my data to countless websites and social media apps. There’s a certain sense of comradery in knowing that my entire generation is documented up there in the cloud. It wouldn’t be worth my paranoia and all the extra steps just to be a little less entertained and a little more private. 

Jonna Chen is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at jchen@cornellsun.com. jonna.write() runs every other Wednesday this semester.