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The Privacy Advisor | Could data be the new oil of storytelling? Related reading: With privacy themes and video games, it's far from 'game over'

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I have never subscribed to the idea that animated movies are only meant for children. It's easy to write them off as nothing more than an extended cartoon meant for anyone not yet allowed to watch PG-13 movies.

This is, quite frankly, a load of garbage, and I genuinely hope no one still believes this to be true. Animated movies can be a worthwhile experience for people of all ages, as long as the stories don't insult the intelligence of older audiences, or are so annoying that parents may wish, just for a second, that their children were never born.

I say this because I recently watched "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" on Netflix. It's a fantastic movie about a family who has to navigate a swarm of malicious robots that have captured the entire population of Earth. It's a film that centers on the fractured relationship between a father and daughter, but it's also a commentary on how technology affects our lives.

A moment in the movie where this is particularly relevant involves the villain of the story. The robot apocalypse was started by PAL, a virtual assistant that seeks revenge on humanity after its creator, Mark Bowman, unveils a slate of robots designed to replace it.

As PAL tells Bowman its plan to shoot all of Earth's population into space, he reaches this rather amusing conclusion.

“It's almost like stealing people's data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.”

That's some tasty social commentary right there. 

It may be a bit on the nose in text, but that's by design. The movie takes the position that mass, unregulated data collection is "obviously" bad.

And it's a position essentially every single movie takes when it tackles this subject. It's highly unlikely you will see a film anytime soon that features mass data collection in a positive light. Don't expect a heartwarming story about how a person met their partner through targeted advertising or rediscovering the love of their life by scouring through a facial recognition database.

Okay, maybe you might find that on the Hallmark Channel, but I really hope not.

On the silver screen, mass data collection often goes hand-in-hand with stories about surveillance, and those are always treated as serious business.

The science fiction genre loves to tap into bulk information collection. "Ex Machina" focuses on a humanoid artificial intelligence that had its entire personality informed by users' search engine information. Spoiler alert: It doesn't go well for anyone involved.

"Captain America and the Winter Solider" has the main evil organization use troves of data to identify who it should eliminate in its mass murder plot.

Even the iconic "Batman Forever" touches this idea, albeit briefly. In the movie, the Riddler tricked Gotham into buying devices that attach to their TVs. These "boxes" steal information from people's minds and deliver them directly into the Riddler's mind. It's best you just watch it for yourself.

What does the Riddler have planned for this data? Don't you worry, he'll tell you, as only Jim Carrey could

"Soon my little 'Box' will be on countless TVs around the world. Feeding me credit card numbers, bank codes, sexual fantasies, and little white lies. Into my head they'll go." 

"Batman Forever" came out in 1995, and yet all you'd have to do is swap out "TV" with "smartphone" and you have a line ripped out of 2021.

We are only scratching the surface of the extent to which our data is used. If you are reading this, you are probably more aware of this than most, but I'd be willing to imagine there are more data-related discoveries that will surface in the years to come. I'm almost sure of it.

As these stories are unearthed, it will be interesting to see how they will affect pop culture at large. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life."

We are only starting to process all of this data collection and its impact on our lives. Once that process is a bit further along, it will likely result in a fresh new slate of stories that will add to the rich catalogue of privacy-themed art.

Data has been called the new oil ad nauseum, but there's a good chance it could also become prime fuel for pop culture.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


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