Your Data belongs to You; Protect it

When you enter our home, do you close your front door? When the dark comes and you switch on the lights, do you draw the curtains?

Most of us do so to protect our privacy. We don’t necessarily have something to hide. We simply don’t want others to peek into our lives.

At the same time, when we surf the internet, we have a false sense of privacy because there is no one physically watching us. In reality though, what happens is even more pervasive. Every website we visit, every comment we write, every ‘like’ we make is constantly tracked and recorded. (If you have the habit to clear your browsing history, you need to know that this deletion happens only locally.).

[Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take,
They’ll be watching you.]

All this data (most of which we give voluntarily but without realising it) is then used to predict our consumer behaviours.

‘So what?’ Some people say. ‘What can they do with this? Let them send me advertisements. I don’t mind.’

Many people may be ok to watch a small (tailored to their needs) ad on one side of their screen, especially if they get to use a platform/service for free.

The problem is that we don’t know what information is collected and how it will be used. In the past, when it was expensive to gather and store information, companies and governments were very selective in whom they were targeting and they only collected the information they needed for a specific purpose.

Nowadays, technology has made it easy and inexpensive to target many people and gather and store everything they are doing without having a specific purpose in mind. The rationale is that they will sell it eventually to somebody else who will find out how to use it for their benefit.

[For example, the apps we use to log in our runs contain a lot information of our physical activities. The genetic material we give to find out who our ancestors were has sensitive data about our genetic predispositions. If health insurances get access to it, they may adjust their pricing policy accordingly – increase the premium for those that the data predicts might have poor health in the future.]

Companies will soon be able to access our data from different sources and will use it to assess their risk/benefit in decisions regarding our loan, university or job application (or in ways we cannot yet imagine).

In addition, we don’t only consume goods, we also consume ideas.

The big social networking platforms can shape our perceptions and beliefs because they have enough information on each of us to know what we are doing or desiring at any point in time and they can use this data to predict our future behaviour accurately (the more data they have and better the algorithms they use, the better the accuracy). They know us better than our closest friends and they use emotional tools instead of rational which are even more effective.

In this context, the power the social networks have is immense and it can be used to influence our views on different social topics by providing us a highly personalised content. They will do so as long as somebody is willing to pay for their services. The more extreme the positions are, the more people will be hooked to the social platforms. (There is already a fight for our attention.)

It is only recently that most of us have become aware about how our personal data is used (and abused).

There are currently discussions about putting regulations in place. (In some industries, self-regulation can be effective. It is difficult though to see how self-regulation can work in regards with monopolies). These changes will take years to be implemented especially because cross-nation agreements will be necessary.

(By the way, technology doesn’t only facilitate big scale surveillance by corporations but also by governments. The latter cannot go unchecked either.).

In the meantime, are there any actions we can take to protect our data?

Yes, there are.

You can find a lot of useful info and tools online.

I would like though to share with you some key guiding principles for you to consider:

  1. Minimise the amount of data you give voluntarily. Review frequently your settings and disable the functionalities you don’t need, use or understand (e.g. you can disable your Location Services and enable them only when you need them, you can reject cookies, etc).
  2. Always question whether what you get in return is worth giving your data away. For example; Is this loyalty program worth it? Each of us has to make our own assessment. At a minimum, try to avoid filling all the personality questionnaires on Facebook. You give so much away for what you get in return (and it will be used to allure you to buying a product or buying into an idea).
  3. Use search engines and other platforms that value your privacy and security. Remember that competition will foster higher standards. (Check online about different tech solutions; e.g. Qwant, DuckDuckGo, ProtonMail, Wire, etc).

If you care about privacy and security, then you may want to do a bit more work to protect it. If seamless use of technology is more important for you, then you may be ok to give away your data. Each of us has to do our own evaluation and make our own decisions.

In general, we need to understand the trade-offs involved and alter our behaviour accordingly.

[Note that indirectly you give access to your friends’ data when you tag them on photos without their consent. Maybe next time you check with them before you do it.]

Why you need to care: In order for the technology companies to offer us personalised content, they track everything we do. Unfortunately, this has significant implications on our privacy. There is a strong case for regulating the sector. Until this happens, each of us can take steps to protect our data and use platforms that value our privacy.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced and constructive.

Posted in b4iapply, Personal development, Self development | Tagged , , , ,

The Art of Asking Good Questions (and When to Avoid Binary Ones)

Can you recall when somebody asked you a question that made you really think and maybe even change your behaviour?

I can share with you one of my experiences.

While I was a novice in stock investments, I was only focusing on how my stocks were performing. A good friend of mine kept asking me ‘How did the market do today?’ As a result, I started paying attention to the market too.

Formulating good questions can be a powerful tool to help people increase their awareness. It is a more effective way of coaching people because they have to find the answers themselves (with some gentle guidance).

Asking good questions is more difficult that it sounds. Open-ended questions are usually more effective for complex matters (these are the ones that they need a full explanation and cannot be answered with a single word – for example ‘what are the key reasons for this growth?’ Or ‘What are the main learnings from the project?’).

The reason is pretty simple; when topics are complex, we cannot expect that the solutions can be forced into simple yes/no, good/bad or in favour/against answers.

However, this is exactly what happens in many discussions around us.

We often experience that binary questions (these are the questions that have only 2 possible answers) are asked to address pretty complicated matters. For example; Are you in favour of globalisations or against?

Trying to answer these topics with a simple yes/no answer deprives us of the opportunity to have meaningful discussions, understand other people’s perspectives and find tailored solutions.

To give an example, the question about being in favour of/against globalisation can be rephrased into ‘What are the pros and cons of globalisation? What are the effects of globalisation that you have personally experienced? What do you think are the unintended consequences of globalisation and what can be done to address them? Who benefits from globalisation? Who doesn’t? How can we mitigate the negative consequences? etc).

When we phrase the questions in an open-ended manner, we invite other parties to move away from a summary (and frequently emotional) position, break down the issue in smaller blocks and attempt to address each one at a time.

By the way, binary questions can sometimes be useful too (especially when talking to kids because they are forced to pick one option e.g. do you prefer pasta or pizza tonight?). But they should be better avoided when situations are more complex and the answers are not black or white but shades of grey.

[Note that referenda ask binary questions for very complex topics. Hence, it is even more important to have a meaningful debate beforehand. Elections can also be considered binary especially in the countries where there is a two-party electorate system.].

Why you need to care: In the polarised world we live, it will be useful to avoid binary questions. By asking open-ended questions, we might have better chances to understand each other’s perspective, become aware of possible blind spots and find common ground.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced, constructive and solution-oriented.

Posted in b4iapply, Coaching, Personal development, Professional development, Self development | Tagged , ,

The Relentless Pursuit of Growth and Low Prices; For How Long Can it Go On?

There has been an impressive growth during the last seventy years in the Western world.

This growth was initially fuelled by rebuilding post – war Europe and catering for the needs of an increasing population in the US. We produced more and we consumed more. Companies were rewarded with capital investments and higher stock prices.

When the growth at home slowed down, the leaders of these companies tried to find ways to compensate for it. They moved some of the production in countries where wages were lower and sourced components in countries where they cost less. The products became cheaper and as a result they were affordable to more people both at home and abroad.

Again the companies were rewarded with more capital investments and even higher stock prices. The leaders of these companies proudly talked about the value they created in terms of billion of dollars. They also talked about the high number of jobs they created at home and the millions of people who moved above the poverty line in the countries they invested (which are positive developments). Pension funds and governments also enjoyed the benefits of this success since their investments increased in value.

This relentless pursuit of growth and low prices had many unintended consequences too.

First, for the model to work, people need to consume. The more, the better. Lower prices entice people to do so. To achieve these lower prices, manufacturing and supply chains (and many jobs with it) moved to lower cost countries. When a few companies did this at the beginning, it was revolutionary and they were rewarded for this innovation. Now most of them have to do it to stay competitive.

At the same time, people got used to buy low cost stuff that don’t last long. This false sense of prosperity encourage us to consume more (it is difficult to resist to the sophisticated marketing to which we are constantly exposed to both online and offline) with detrimental implications to the environment.

As jobs move to other countries to reduce costs, the senior managers of these companies are very well remunerated. Their annual salary is many times higher than the average salary in the companies they lead. So, they are further incentivised to go aggressively for more growth without considering the negative impact to the society.

Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Now it is possible to see both the positive and the negative sides of the system. The lower prices of goods we all enjoy don’t include either the price for the jobs that migrated to lower wage countries or price for the polluted environment – which we will all have to pay in the end.

Although we cannot change what happened in the past, we have the opportunity to change what will happen in the future.

The system cannot focus only on efficiencies. We need to find metrics that track the wider impact on the society and reward companies that do good. (What gets measured, gets managed). We don’t only have a responsibility but also a collective interest to do so.

On a personal basis, we need to be aware that our consumer behaviours matter (a lot). If we change from a cost-minimisation mindset to a value optimisation one (in other words buy fewer but better quality products which might cost a bit more but will also last longer), change in the way the companies operate will also follow.

Why you need to care: The relentless pursuit of growth happens by continuously reducing costs in order to achieve lower prices. This model has significant implications on societal structure and climate change which sooner or later will affect all of us. As consumers, we can be part of the solution by changing our behaviours. Companies will eventually have to adjust to our new habits.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced and constructive.

Posted in b4iapply, Economics, Self development | Tagged , ,

10 predictions about how the “New Norm” would look like

Covid-19 has disrupted our lives in a way than none of us would have predicted. The current thinking is that we will go back to normal (albeit a new normal) when effective vaccines will be available.

In this blog, I would like to share with you my thoughts how the ‘New Norm’ would look like. This exercise is not about fortune-telling but more about forecasting.

  1. We will become more health conscious (we will eat healthier, we will exercise more and we will sleep more).
  2. The value of the family unit will increase and we will spend more quality time together.
  3. We will be working more from home although we will still have opportunities to connect in person for a few days per week/month.
  4. There will be more need for space and access to nature.
  5. Most of education and up-skilling will take place either online or on the job (or a combination of both).
  6. We will become more sociable and caring although we will interact less with people in person.
  7. Activities with large audiences will be virtual or hybrid.
  8. We will travel less frequently to other countries. When we do, we will stay longer.
  9. Social media usage will increase. At the same time, regulations will be introduced to avoid monopolies and manipulation.
  10. Our value system and aspirations will focus more on improving quality of life and overcoming social problems (inequalities, climate change, etc) and less on consumerism and monetary gratification…

This is how I visualise that the ‘New Norm’ would look like. I have discussed the benefits of this exercise in the blog post ‘Imagine the Future; the art of forecasting can be useful not only for corporations but also for individuals’.

I would suggest you put some thinking in how you would like the new norm to be.

Why you need to care: For two reasons. First, you will be better prepared for it. Most importantly though, if you have a vision of how you want the ‘New Norm’ to be, you will help create it.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced, constructive and solution-oriented.

Posted in b4iapply, Career Advice, Coaching, Personal development, Professional development, Self development | Tagged , , ,

Imagine the Future; the art of forecasting can be useful not only for corporations but also for individuals

Corporations are used to think about the future. They put effort in understanding the different trends, identify various scenarios and have a concrete plan for each of them.

They usually have a base case scenario (the most likely one to happen) and also consider the best (better than expected) and worst case (worse than expected) . This exercise enables them to do the thinking and planning early, to decide where and how much to invest and then they focus on execution (in other words what they can control).

This technique can be useful at a personal level too. Instead of worrying about the future (especially during these uncertain times), it will be more useful if we channel our energy in imaging it.

This is not an exercise about predicting the future but about thinking what scenarios are probable. (There is an important distinction between probable and possible. Probable is what is likely to happen; possible is what might happen but it is not ce rtain. For example, although it is possible for me to win the lottery, it is not probable.).

Think what is likely to happen and use this as your base case scenario. Then, imagine how the situation could be better than expected and also worse. In this way, you will be better prepared..

In general, this exercise is not about fortune-telling, it is about forecasting.

As an example, let’s imagine when the virus will be under control and life will be normalised (albeit a slight different normal).

It is expected that effective vaccines will be available mid-2021. Hence, many people will be vaccinated by the end of 2021 (at least in the Western world) which will allow us to go back to normal activities (base case scenario). If vaccines are ready by the end of this year, then we might expect the situation to be under control from mid 2021 (better case scenario). If it takes longer to get an effective vaccine or there are manufacturing bottlenecks, then we may have to wait until mid-2022 (worse case scenario).

By imagining these scenarios, we are in better position to prepare for them. Instead of worrying about what might happen, we move to think about what we can do which is within our control.

Get into the habit of imagining how the future would look like. It might feel a bit awkward at the beginning. Like everything else, the more you do it, the better you become at it.

I personally prefer to do this exercise with friends. It is fun (my kind of fun at least!) and the input from others usually helps me to refine my thoughts.

Why you need to care: The forecasting technique that is widely used by corporations can be very useful for you too. The more you learn to visualise the future, the more you learn to focus on what you can control. Fear of the unknown will be replaced by action.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced, constructive and solution-oriented.

I started the b4iapply blog because I passionately believe in empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, their finances and other societal topics that affect all of us directly or indirectly. I only share my views and I aim to be balanced, constructive and solution-oriented.

Posted in b4iapply, Career Advice, Coaching, Self development | Tagged , , | 1 Comment