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  • Bernadette Bowen

Response to Datafication, Commodification, and Selection

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

The following is a discussion board post I made for a Media Ecology course in response to this prompt:


"In chapter 2 of The Platform Society, the authors introduce three platform mechanisms (or in media ecology terms, biases) and argue that the interplay of these biases "can be decisive for the actors involved" (p. 32). These mechanisms are "datafication", "commodification", and "selection". For this week's prompt (and in a succinct paragraph or two) I'd like for you to address the following:


  • What are these biases/mechanisms?

  • How do these biases (i.e. their interplay) work within an app that you use frequently?

  • Any surprises here (about how these biases work in your chosen app, or who they're working for)?


We know much more about the "Big 5", so please select an app that isn't as mainstream (doesn't need to be obscure, but just avoid selecting the usual suspects). For example, I use an app called "MyFitness Pal". Please be sure to internally cite any sources consulted for your mini investigation (a simple in-text citation will do for our purposes)."



The first of the three mechanisms or biases which Van Dijck overviewed was called datafication, which Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier (2013) defined as the "ability of networked platforms to render into data many aspects of the world that have never been quantified before" (pg. 33) and which Van Dijck explained is comprised of behavioral meta-data captured from every form of user interaction imaginable. The second mechanism is called commodification which, "involves platforms transforming online and offline objects, activities, emotions, and ideas into tradable commodities" (pg. 37). The third and final form is called selection or curation, which transitioned from the traditional human expertise form of gatekeeping to increasingly data-driven algorithmically processed ones.  As someone who's spent a great deal of time studying global and transnational media corporations long-game monopolization of media, it was eye-opening to see how transformative these three filters have shifted and changed the now platformatized ecological game.

 

One app that I use is called "Treadly Remote," which was designed to be used with the Treadly+ edition of the Treadly intuitively minimalistic treadmill. Unlike the basic version (minus +), this second tier one allows users to not only walk onto the front or back of the machine to begin, increase, slow or stop exercising, but further allows users to adjust and control speed more efficiently on their smartphone (datafication / commodification / selection). In incredibly small light gray font at the bottom of the app it states, "By clicking get started you agree to the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and Safety Guidelines" (which I never noticed before, despite having used this app for over a month now). Prior to each use, the app needs to be paired to the device. To do this, the treadmill must be plugged in, and then you open the device to connect and start your workout. Once connected, to start, you choose your desired speed, the machine's interface and app interface sync up, and the belt begins moving. As you continue to walk/jog on the device, both the treadmill interface and app display your allotted movement time, steps taken, and the alternated projection of your current speed and total distance traveled on the belt (datafication / commodification). Beyond the control efficiency perk of using this app, it also stores your overall accumulation of total distance in miles or kilometers alongside the total steps taken (datafication). One might think the interconnection of all three mechanism stops there, but really it continues. Whether during or after a workout, users are enabled by the technological imperative to share their movement data with an endless variety of other health apps to be analyzed and translated. Much like anything else nowadays, completed workout data is also shareable manually if one chooses to screenshoot the Treadly app's interface to then post on social media accounts (datafication / commodification / selection). As Van Dijck addressed, this perpetual reliance on data creates a host of complications regarding accountability of who is responsible for that data's accuracy; potentially leading to unforeseen harm of users who choose to blindly trust its projected data reads and analysis. As Section 3 "Accuracy, Completeness, and Timeliness of Information" of Treadly's Terms and Services page stated, they:


"...are not responsible if information made available on any Platform is not accurate, complete or current. The material on the Platforms are provided for general information only and should not be relied upon or used as the sole basis for making decisions without consulting primary, more accurate, more complete or more timely sources of information. Any reliance on the material on any Platform is at your own risk" (para. 8).

With the above explanation of this device in mind, it's clear how its companion app's usage is orchestrated through all three interplaying mechanisms (or biases) Van Dijck discussed in chapter two. The only surprise for me is that this app hasn't yet been more overtly integrated with others. Though, I suppose that may not have been its creators/designers prerogative. What I mean is, unlike other health apps (like My FitnessPal, which in my experience has always pushed notified advertisements), this Treadly app by comparison feels much more like a technological dead-end or cul-de-sac. At first breath, and after sifting this app's interface through the three filters, it's quite clear this companion app was first and foremost created by Treadly for the sole purpose of selling a slightly more expensive version of their machine.


However, on second more invasive glance, I do believe they have been legally preparing for a substantially more integrated future. For instance, on one hand, their Terms and Services / Safety Guidelines page is a single page which demands users read it carefully or else they, "may not access or use the Site use or download the App, purchase products or services from Treadly, or use any services, and you must delete the downloaded App from your device(s) to the extent already downloaded" (para. 3). Furthermore, their site is hosted by a website called clickfunnels.com (owned by YouTuber and "FunnelHacker" Russell Brunson https://www.russellbrunson.com/hi (Links to an external site.)) which they described as a, "third-party online e-commerce platform that allows [them] to sell [their] products and Services to you" (para. 4). On the other, anytime I've tried to access their "Privacy Policy" by clicking on the link provided it has pulled up an entirely blank page. Take that as you will.

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