Getting Feisty Protecting Your Data from Companies

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The machines are watching us. Computers, phones, hospitals and cars are all collecting data on us to serve us better. But how can we the consumers know when our data is working for us, not against us? 

WNYC's Brian Lehrer did a great two-hour show today about the intersection of privacy and technology and who wins and loses when our data is akin to a digital currency.

A vigorous debate sprang up over the benefits and drawbacks of sharing our personal information with companies like Google and Facebook between Jeff Jarvis, author of Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, and Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and author of Who Owns the Future?

According to Lanier, the people with the best computers are set up to own the future, a prospect he finds troubling. "The way we're sharing data was originally supposed to create this egalitarian society where everything would become more efficient and everyone would benefit," he said. "I've been seeing it instead contribute to extreme wealth inequality."

Jarvis downplayed the economics and chose to highlight the scientific, academic and journalistic benefits of the type of information sharing that has accelerated during the digital age. "I think that we also have to talk about the value of sharing," said Jarvis.

He argues sharing your location with Google will help you find the best pizza. His point: You give companies information so they can help you out. Lanier heartily disagrees. 

For the full (very lively) conversation, click on the audio below. It's full of disagreements, insights and even a barb about who knows more about big data. For discussions with other guests, visit the Brian Lehrer Show