Using personal information gathered about you on the Internet to provide you with better choice is very different from using the same information to control your behavior. The former is a service to the consumer. The latter is exploitation. I call the use of big data to exploit consumers “personal redlining.”
The term “redlining,” which first emerged in the 1950s, referred to the practice of denying service or charging more for products to particular groups based on race, sex, or where they lived. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made redlining based on race, religion, sex, and the like illegal in mortgage lending.
Personal redlining is not about using big data in clever ways to influence choice as has been discussed in a recent Atlantic article by Rebecca J. Rosen. It is about using big data to dictate choice. When companies engage in personal redlining they use big data to learn everything possible about you as an individual and then decide what information, products, and services you should have—and at what price. It is about limiting options and pressuring customers to select one of those options.
If you are provided with too much information, it becomes impossible to find the information you want. Publications such as The Atlantic filter the information they publish to provide their large reader population with the articles they believe will interest them. (It’s called “editing.”) Personal redlining using big data can also be used to provide you with relevant choices and make it easier for you to find what you want.