Can Biometric Data Give Rise to Digital Dictatorship?

In this article, we respect the efforts tech firms, governments and tech geniuses make to ensure the internet becomes a better place for us all. However, we hinted that if digital dictatorship would arise, it would be from a potentially tyrant government or over-ambitious firms, of which we don’t believe that would occur because Mark Zuckerberg and other tech pioneers are positively concerned and are doing the possible best to ensure that doesn’t happen, and we, the people also maintained advocacy for decentralized systems like Blockchain.

Photo by Erika Fletcher on Unsplash

As the internet and technology continue to penetrate every aspect of human’s life, data is consistently proving itself as one of the most important commodity of the 21st century, private and public entities leverage on data for so many reasons with the ability to have and leverage on the right data seen as a serious competitive edge these days. For the Government of any nation, the ability to leverage on data, store accurate data or mine data expertly is usually seen as a pointer to the level of development of the country with developed countries known to have a central data silo that stores the data of almost all citizens of the nation and individuals without any public data are usually seen as anomalies or suspicious.

In the private sector, the necessity for leveraging data is actually stiffer and is now becoming a serious issue in the tech world with the major tech companies in the world constantly under scrutiny for data privacy breach. The scrutiny most tech companies come under with respect to data privacy is actually understandable because most of the advantage that the most successful tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook or Apple, have all accumulated competitive advantage to a large extent due to their ability to maximize big data, data science or artificial intelligence.

User experience remains one of a company’s most important factors for maintaining market relevance as the firm must first develop products that users would love then also ensure that they keep adding layers of features and services that would keep making customers coming for more and the answer to all these questions lie inadequate use of data but the big tech companies didn’t just stop at leveraging data used to create a superior user experience, they used these data to create more products and services by leveraging on existing data advantage, for example, Google didn’t just stop at being a search engine but ventured into other products like email, google maps and even android(mobile) among many others, by leveraging on the existing networks of users.

Companies like Google or Amazon can easily roll out new products or services without really worrying about not having lots of people that would use it and they always have a pool of data to carry out the user research to test the new product or service, so it was easy to keep introducing more products that are interrelated and cover major aspects of a person’s everyday life activities and mantling their market dominance.

Hence, these have made all tech companies compete for who can best leverage data with a lot of mechanisms being put in place by so many companies especially e-commerce platforms to ensure that they convince you to make a transaction or keep coming back to the platform, for example, you can click on an item on an e-commerce platform — an action that signifies interest or that you may like the item — and even when you decide to not buy that item you can keep seeing adverts of those items as an advert of the e-commerce platform when you are browsing on the internet away from that e-commerce platform.

The reality is big data and artificial intelligence forms a major part of any successful system or business in the digital era because there is so many information out there and everyone is basically fighting for customer’s attention and companies or individuals who want to stand out must have to position themselves properly by aligning themselves closer to the interest of potential or existing customers.

However, as the need to tighten national security as in the case of the government or to increase user security and satisfaction as in the case of private companies, governments and private firms have increasingly begun to leverage on biometric data mostly for individual authentication and security or to increase user convenience while using a digital platform.

Biometric data are physical and behavioural identifiers that are usually used for digital authentication, they include fingerprints, facial patterns, voice or typing cadence amongst others. Biometrics takes digital security to another level as it is usually more secure than traditional methods of authentication which includes password, however, its position as a form of data aggregation makes it even a more potent threat to data manipulation compared to conventional data aggregation.

The potential threats of biometric data are not farfetched nor illogical as present data controversies, first of all, establish the premise that private firms and even possibly the government cannot always be trusted with data, as data has become a major tool for affecting people’s decisions.

Firstly, ‘biometric data artificial intelligence’ can become the first platform for representing every single individual with unique algorithms that can be influenced easily to satisfy their needs, not to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, I once again draw on present actions as proof of possibility: leveraging data or artificial intelligence already exists in business and even government, with companies developing digital products based on algorithms gathered from user behaviours maybe via questionnaires or field studies while governments like the USA gathers data on its citizens in her bid to improve national security.

However, such form of leveraging data has never been one that can be tailored to absolutely influence individual decisions because there never really existed an absolute data collection for each individual with most form of data analytics depending on general human behaviour pattern or group similarities, but with the continual increase in the aggregation of biometric data, there might just be a rise of a form of a digital dictatorship.

The digital dictatorship is one that can be created as governments can have central databases with all the necessary data to define a single human being behaviour and lifestyle by leveraging on all necessary personal data while some private firms can begin to ‘own’ their customers as they can absolutely predict one’s taste, predilections, hereditary effects and even possibly allergies.

Although, there are advantages of biometric data — for example, the government can best guarantee the security of her average citizens with increased data power and private firms can have a more reliable and sophisticated body of individual data to increase every user unique experience — there however still remains a strong possibility that it creates a form of digital ownership or slavery because almost every of a man’s activity is digital and irrespective of whatever advantages might be portrayed our wills as a human being must never be compromised and our choices must never be influenced to the extent where the rise of a tyrant government or the pressure to maintain market dominance by an over-ambitious private firm, would mean that we become subject to absolute manipulation.

As already stated, the main reason why biometric data are becoming more popular is due to increasing need to improve digital security against hackers and cyber frauds, but there are decentralized solutions now available that are ensuring that while the security of people is guaranteed, their data privacy is not infringed upon. Solutions like Blockchain technology, are at the forefront of recent decentralized technologies with Blockchain technology now being popularly adopted for cryptocurrency while some other people are even clamouring for the technology to be well adopted in other aspects like identity management because it guarantees that people’s data are safe.

The internet remains arguably the most important innovation of mankind’s existence, and as it continues to enter every aspect of man’s life there seem to be an advancement or improvement in every part of our life that it enters, however, in the bid to leverage on all its advantage, we must seek ways or solutions like decentralized technologies, to ensure that we do not lose our autonomy independence and consequently our humanity, in the process.

Can Biometric Data Give Rise to Digital Dictatorship? was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.