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Podcast: Your Cloud Self vs. You

“Your data is like your pet. You may own it, but it also has a life of its own.”


On this week’s What’s The Point, a conversation with longtime radio and print journalist Farai Chideya, who has joined FiveThirtyEight to write a column about the frontiers of data and how it affects our lives. Farai discusses why she thinks data is such a crucial story, her reporting on Facebook’s insatiable thirst for your information, the public’s lack of data literacy — and why data breaches usually lead to an “indefinite threat of future harm.”

Stream or download the full episode above, and find videos and a partial transcript below.

What if a buzzer went off every time you created a piece of data?

Your Cloud Self vs. Your Physical Self

Your “cloud self” vs. your physical self

Jody Avirgan: What about the notion of the identity we have within us as we walk around and the identity that’s created by the data we generate each day. Do you think about how close [they] are?

Farai Chideya: I call it “the cloud self” because there’s your physical self, your tangible self, then there’s this nimbus of data, which is in the cloud for the most part. It’s also on servers, of course. But that nimbus of data grows increasingly complex and interconnected. So, your banking data may now connect to your college and university data, which connects to your financial data, which connects to your social grid … and so the nimbus of activity that is your cloud self is in some ways deeper and more precise than your analog self. Your cloud self can often remember exactly what you were having for lunch 15 Tuesdays ago because sent it to you and there’s a record of exactly what you got.

There’s a flood of information that’s a part of your cloud self, but what is happening is also that your cloud self [is making] connections. Increasingly, there are transfer points between different forms of data.

Avirgan: How accurate is your cloud self?

Chideya: It totally depends. I saw a completely erroneous address [in my records]. I had to fill out a form with a bunch of my past addresses recently, and I pulled up one of my credit reports, and I saw a completely erroneous address on it. In the back of my mind, I was like, “Oh, I should fix that.” It’s not hurting me, but it is completely wrong.

So, I think that over time, a lot of the data does get better, but there are also cases [like that]. I think [we need] data hygiene. Like, in the same way that you floss your teeth to make sure that you don’t have rotting gums. You have to kind of get in there in the cracks of your messy data and get the icky bits out.

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What’s The Point’s music was composed by Hrishikesh Hirway, host of the “Song Exploder” podcast. Download our theme music.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.