Oral-B, a Procter & Gamble company, this year launched its SmartSeries Bluetooth toothbrush — an essential appliance for what the firm calls “the well-connected bathroom”.
It connects to your smartphone, where its app tracks brushing tasks: Have you flossed? cleaned the tongue? rinsed? And highlights areas of the mouth visualized on the phone screen that deserve more attention.
More importantly, as the toothbrush’s website proudly announces, it also “records brushing activity as data that you can chart on your own and share with dental professionals.”
What happens to that data — whether it goes to these dental professionals, or your insurance company, stays with you or is appended to your data already owned by Facebook and Google — is a controversial question.
The principle of financialization is that if anything can be done, it not only can, but should be done for money, and that the only standard of value is monetary. Technology in the service of financialization applies this to your personal life. Any information about you that is worth knowing is worth selling for money.
Now if personal data is a financial asset and nothing else, the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell it, just as the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell his or her own blood. But is this how we want to live?
The digitization of everyday life, and the rapaciousness of financialization, risk turning everything — genome to bedroom — into a productive asset.
As Esther Dyson, a board member of 23andme, the leader in personalized genomics, said the company is “like the ATM that gives you access to the wealth locked within your genes”.
This is the future that Silicon Valley expects us to embrace: given enough sensors and net connections, our entire life becomes a giant ATM. Those refusing this would have only themselves to blame.
Opting out from the “sharing economy” would come to be seen as economic sabotage and wasteful squandering of precious resources that could accelerate growth.
Eventually, the refusal to “share” becomes tinged with as much guilt as the refusal to save or work or pay debts, with a veneer of morality covering up — once again — exploitation.
It’s only natural that the less fortunate, under the burden of austerity, are turning their kitchens into restaurants, their cars into taxis, and their personal data into financial assets. What else can they do?
For Silicon Valley, this is a triumph of entrepreneurship — a spontaneous technological development, unrelated to the financial crisis. But it is only as entrepreneurial as those who are driven — by the need to pay rent — into prostitution or selling their body parts.
Hat tip for the link to Daniel Brandt.