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As we keep moving into the Data Age, the messiness of data keep increasing, albeit with an objective and far from the customers / citizens eye. What could have been called as business data or consumer behaviour data has become surveillance data on the customers. The data sourced from the customer is used against him. Surveillance data to discriminate is used by companies in a very fundamental way.

Redlining was a term used in 1960s to describe the practice which is much older. This was banks discriminating against members of minority groups when they wanted to buy homes. In 2000, Wells Fargo bank used what it called, ”community calculator”, helping potential buyers search for neighbourhoods. This practice which is termed as ”weblining”, has the potential be more pervasive & discriminatory compared to redlining.

Unfortunately, price discrimination seems to have become an accepted tool. It’s companies charging different people different prices for the same product or service realising bountiful profits. Airline pricing is the best example and regulators don’t find any issue with it. Discriminations on caste or gender is illegal, but on timings is fine. It can go up to the extent of even what operating system you use?Customers are being assigned scores & ratings, in critical areas their fate depending on them. The surreptitious nature is the most nefarious element. Workplace surveillance and ”workplace analytics,” is basically surveillance driven Human Resource management.

While GDPR & Privacy debate rages on, business corporations are making a killing by using data at the expense of the consumers. Customers don’t like this, but this will happen as: sellers are competing, software / algorithms make price discrimination easier and the discrimination can be hidden from the customers. Will the corporations resist? Will governments use the whip? Will customer become the Ultimate Slave of Data Capitalism?


Sanjay Sahay

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