How much control should big tech have over what you think and do? It’s a compelling controversy that is currently being debated. It’s not clear when the discussion exactly began, but there have been many who have been wary of big tech for decades. Even President Eisenhower had something to say about it in his second 1961 farewell speech (the first being famous for his warning of the military-industrial complex) he also warned. “…we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
Once called paranoid, those who feared big tech are being vindicated by the acknowledgments of data collection and leaks to third party users. Additionally, reports of censorship and behavioral control are slowly making its way to public awareness. Sounding like a movie plot about a dystopian future, consider the internal Google video that was leaked by The Verge earlier this year (Google’s Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering; theverge.com; May 17, 2018). The video discusses the use of data to not only change opinions and shape viewpoints that correspond with the company’s values, but to change behavior and shape society to “a directed result.”
Imagine being told where to buy a home, and which real estate services to use based on your behavioral data. Big tech’s “guiding” of real estate consumers to homes and neighborhoods based on behavioral modeling algorithms seems like it could save time and effort for the consumer. But it could also be considered steering, which is considered to be a fair housing no-no.
But big tech wants more of your data to improve modeling algorithms. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (Facebook to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users; wsj.com; August 6, 2018), Facebook has been in conversations with banks to access users’ accounts and transactions. The social media platform denied the story the next day. However, the reporting is compelling, given the report’s sources and the notion that Facebook wants to become a consumer marketplace.
Zillow is also expanding data usage. Zillow announced this week of their acquisition of Mortgage Lenders of America. The purchase is said to boost Zillow’s “Offers” program, offering mortgages for home buyers making offers on site. However, GeekWire reported Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff as saying in the company’s second-quarter earnings call, “We’re taking our huge advantages, which are our audience and our brand and our resources, and expanding into other business vertically… (Zillow acquires Mortgage Lenders of America, posts $325M in Q2 revenue, up 22%; geekwire.com; August 6, 2018).”
And it’s not just big tech that wants your data. Traditional companies are realizing the potential of behavioral modeling and guiding consumer behavior. Inman reported earlier this year that co-founder Gary Keller proclaimed Keller Williams a tech company (What the hell is Keller Williams doing? Lingering questions from the Vision Speech; inman.com; February 28, 2018). Keller proclaimed, “We are a technology company. No. 1 that means we build the technology. No. 2 that means we hire the technologists … We are not a real estate company anymore.”
Big tech is losing touch with the average consumer. Home buyers and sellers don’t want to be told what to do. Rather, they want to make organic decisions. And instead of algorithms, they value trusted Realtors to help with the process.