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Georgia Iacovou

How To Make A Data Request

02 Apr 2019

How To Make A Data Request

02 Apr 2019

Step 1: just don’t

Step 2: read this article, live normal life

Yes exactly, making a data request is a bit like asking if you can carry around a bit of paper with your name, age, and hair colour on it. You already know that stuff, why do you need it written down? You just look silly now…

At the moment big tech companies are having a super fun time telling you, “woo yeah just ask and we’ll give all that data we have about you back,”. Haha okay, “give it back” will you? They’re acting like this is as simple as giving back a phone charger you accidentally “borrowed” for three weeks.

Let’s look at a real-world example. If you want, you can retrieve all the data that Spotify holds about you. So what you’ll get is a zip file containing info such as your streaming history, what your playlists are, and what’s in your library etc. Okay so what does this even mean for you? Spotify say:

  1. You now own this data about you
  2. You now control this data about you
  3. As a result, you’ve got more privacy

Seems legit, but it’s not because actually:

  1. You do not own this data - nobody does.
  2. You do not control it really, otherwise you wouldn’t have to ask for it.
  3. You only have ‘more privacy’ if you also explicitly ask them to remove your data, and if you do this Spotify just won’t be as good.

Why won’t Spotify be as good if you ask them to delete the data about you? Because that’s only way they can figure out what you like. If you listen to ABBA on repeat, it’s quite likely that you’d want to listen to more 70s pop when all the ABBA runs out. So just imagine that, but in greater detail, and over a long period of time. Letting Spotify use your data to learn what music you like is exactly the point of Spotify.

If you do go ahead and make a data request from Spotify, I guarantee you will just get a file that tells you what you already know, or what you can already easily find out by simply looking at your Spotify app right now (your search history, your playlists, anything else in your library).

The file you get is also something that you can’t do anything with. Are you an app? Do you know how to take that information about yourself (which you already implicitly know, because you are you) and stick it in an algorithm which will recommend music to you that you are likely to enjoy? No, probably not.

What I’m saying here is that the current way that data requests are dealt with is not useful, and it does not give any more power to the - already fairly powerless - user. That’s you. You are powerless and you are a user. Sorry.

It would be great if there was a way you could make the data you produce more portable. Then, you would not have to begrudgingly rely on companies such as Spotify, who have perfected their service with the data that you give them, and will not let you give to anyone else.

You should be able to switch and swap between companies very easily with the data that you produce. Singapore are already trying this. It definitely has it’s flaws, but it’s a step in the right direction.