Brandishing a Tesco clubcard, Dr Mhairi Aitken warns us that a loyalty card can say a lot about you. Your dietary preferences, alcohol consumption even fitness levels can be, and indeed are, tracked by supermarkets and other corporations to build personal profiles of consumers. Advertising is tailored; we are subtly manipulated. But what if this information could be used for greater purposes than money-off vouchers for your next purchase of tangerines? New research conducted by academics like Dr Mhairi Aitken at the University of Edinburgh wants to use this information to understand patterns of consumption, and to target public health campaigns. Yet Aitken asked us to consider how much of this information is personal, and where we should draw the line between public asset and private information.
I Know What You Ate Last Summer made an intellectual topic accessible in an engaging and thought-provoking discussion.
In a new venue for the fringe this year, The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is enticing academics down from their ivory towers and into a yurt in St Andrews Square. I Know What You Ate Last Summer, an hour-long talk and subsequent discussion, was just one of the spoken word events from the diverse programme hosted by The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas and the Beltane Public Engagement Network.
Dr Aitken posed some compelling and challenging questions during the intellectual hour. Particularly stimulating was her example of a pregnant woman’s clubcard information revealing a habit for booze and tobacco. Probing the audience for responses, Aiken asked us all to consider if this sort of information should be available to public health organisations to target such issues.
Aitken’s introductory talk led into a general audience discussion, which was perhaps the highlight of the event. The discussion flowed freely, wandering into topics such as the quantity of information we all choose to share online, and who should have access to all of this information.
The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas should be applauded for providing a space for academics to discuss their research and share ideas with the general public. I Know What You Ate Last Summer made an intellectual topic accessible in an engaging and thought-provoking discussion.