A sideways view: They don't know what you put in your bin... yet

Ray Georgeson wonders how the media might encourage more serious recycling

They don't know what you put in your bin... yet

With every week that passes, we hear more revelations from whistleblowers and investigative journalists about the nefarious practices of a certain social media giant and its market research partners in potential crime. It seems that their ability to access our data, to understand who we are, what we think and what we buy, is deeply subversive and powerful. It is increasingly likely – indeed, it has been admitted by the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign – that without their interventions and ability to shape opinions through clever use of social media, the EU referendum would not have turned out the way it did.

It’s a scandal, and yet in public discourse it seems to be met with a mixture of outrage from liberals and much shrugging of shoulders from many others, who seem quietly resigned to the fact that such is the way of the modern world. That decisions of such monumental importance to the countries of the United Kingdom – never mind the rest of our European friends, especially Ireland – can be allowed to stand in the face of such blatant manipulation beggars belief. Electoral rules appear to have been broken and the result of the referendum should logically be nullified, yet let’s see if any of our spineless leaders have the courage to tackle this.

This article was taken from Issue 92

Our right-wing tabloid press, especially the Daily Mail and Daily Express, don’t appear to have the same outrage about this – a deep and dangerous mining of personal data for political and profitmaking purposes – as they did when they were railing against the pernicious ‘nanny state’ and its outrageous desire to check what people were putting in their bins. In screaming front page headlines, the Daily Mail went so far as to describe local government recycling officers, who were trying to manage waste better and improve recycling performance, as ‘Green Gauleiters’, a particularly offensive description and one I share here only to emphasis the nastiness of the points being made.

On one occasion, this newspaper even took umbrage that the RFID chips installed in some wheeled bins (for monitoring purposes) were made in Germany and ran a headline about ‘Germans spying on our bins’. Utterly wrong and deeply offensive on every level, appealing to elements of a readership that have conspired in the calumny that is Brexit.

Given the Mail’s conversion now to various green causes (including the plastic bag levy, for which it claims credit) and the current wave of pressure for action on other single-use products, such as plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, which the Mail is very active in promoting, perhaps it is time for this paper and others to reconsider how technology and social media applications might better manage what happens in the bin and in the recycling.

Maybe a new app could be produced, linked to all the refuse and recycling bins, that used barcodes and infrared to determine what products you put in each bin, how many you bought, how often you bought and disposed of them, and so much more. It could produce a product-related profile for all of us, to match those social media profiles they have come to love so well and become so familiar with. This could help to manage resources so much more effectively, targeting you with the right messages at the right time about what to recycle and when – without you even realising it.

They could call it Wastebook…