Inform, educate and entertain us about metadata
by Anthony Barnett
My one suggestion for how the BBC should improve its game is for it to inform, educate and entertain the British public about metadata. Metadata should be a word that everyone understands and uses. Our metadata is part of the weather and should be a regular part on the morning Today programme’s vocabulary, as well as the Corporation’s other news outlets.
Our metadata is the trail of everything we do in our digital environment. Everywhere that we stay and go chronicled by our phones; every website we visit; who we call or Skype and for how long; those we email or who emails us; our financial transactions, Tweets, Facebook activity, Instagrams; all online purchases and anything we buy by credit or debit card.
It is not the content of our messages which really matters however, but the map of our activities.
We are our metadata! It’s fascinating and funny and the everyday: there is metadata crime, metadata security, metadata error, metadata murder and metadata magic. And, of course, there is metadata politics (see the way the Tories focused on swing voters in marginal constituencies).
I’m not saying it is all recorded as a means of social control. But I’d like to be able to ask the question, as would everyone else. The only way we can ask is by means of the word. Deprived of the vocabulary that expresses and describes the shape shifting forms of modern citizenship, we cannot be citizens.
Who owns our metadata? Who has rights to it and why? Can it be used to manipulate us by commercial platforms like Facebook and Google (and even the BBC) and if so how? This interests everyone, of all generations. And it is not wonkery. I constantly find people who are fascinated by what metadata means, usually with stories to tell of their own. There is a hunger to be informed of what metadata is about, a felt need to be educated about metadata, and it can be very entertaining!
There is no excuse. It’s a metadata world. We need metadata alert broadcasting.
Anthony Barnett (@AnthonyBarnett) is the founder of OpenDemocracy
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