1971: Personal Data
Title text: Do I just leave money in my mailbox? How much? How much money do they need, anyway? I guess it probably depends how the economy is doing. If stocks go up, should I leave more money in my mailbox or less?
| This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a typical xkcd Adult... so need more... Add explanation of what Stock, what personal data is and what the economy and tax is as well. Maybe a table? PLEASE. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.|
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
This is another comic poking fun at adults who have trouble dealing with grown-up issues.
The comic starts with Cueball wondering what "personal data" is, saying he doesn't understand what it is, and it is an abstract concept. Ponytail follows by pointing out she doesn't understand what "the economy" is, and conjecturing that it is related to "stocks", although admitting that she also does not understand what stocks are. The punchline comes when White Hat says that he doesn't understand what "taxes" are and asks if he really has to pay them and to who. This surprises Cueball and Ponytail, who promptly advise him to learn about that one soon. The title text has White Hat asking another series of tax-related questions that adults are expected to know already, further compounding his troubles.
White Hat not knowing what taxes are indicates that he may not have paid his taxes in previous years, which would be alarming since tax evasion is punishable as a crime. Ponytail's remark that he should do this ideally in the next few weeks is referring to this year's US Tax Day which falls on April 17, 2018, less than four weeks after the release of this comic. So if you do not have your tax preparation under control, it is time to research how it works now.
This is not the first time Randall has made a comic about people having trouble understanding the US tax system in relation to an approaching tax day. Other instances include the title text of 1805: Unpublished Discoveries from March the year before this comic, and this one from August 2015: 1566: Board Game.
This comic references several advanced topics that people commonly talk about, but may not actually understand well:
Personal data is usually thought of as any information that pertains to a private person. But this definition is very vague and can encompass a huge variety of data ranging from very sensitive (Social Security number, bank account details, passwords) to less sensitive (first name, color of pet cat). Different people also have different ideas of what information is considered sensitive. For example, some may want eagerly to share the location of their weekend activity with the world, whereas others may prefer not to let everyone know their location.
Even though it is generally advised to keep personal data private and not to expose it to the public or to companies (especially online, e.g. Facebook and Google), not everyone agrees on the level of privacy that should be afforded to the data. Some hold the view that even innocent-looking personal data can be harvested and used for unsavory purposes (for example, a health insurance company can use social media posts about eating fast food as a cause to raise premiums, or a government can use cat pictures as evidence of pet ownership and demand license fees), and therefore all personal data should be strictly controlled. Others hold the view that sometimes it is worth exchanging some degree of privacy for other conveniences (for example, meeting friends by sharing their location info or getting cheaper prices from targeted advertising based on web browsing history).
Personal data breaches were in the news a few days before the publishing of this comic when the UK's Channel Four released an investigative documentary about political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Among the revelations of the documentary were that the company had used Facebook to not only harvest the personal data of users taking their polls, but the friends and family of those users, without their knowledge or consent. They used this information to attempt to influence both the 2016 United States elections and the UK's 'Brexit' vote. This sparked an ongoing discussion about the security of personal data and the role of social media in securing it.
Technological changes in the past few decades have made personal data much easier to collect, share, and analyze in bulk, raising new questions and concerns that have not been considered before. Even people who can define what data is personal to them may not realize the full extent of how others might use it, or how it impacts their lives.
The economy, at a basic level, is the circulation of money which enables productivity. For example, a bus driver might use their money to watch a movie, the movie producer might use their revenue (gathered from the bus driver and many others) to purchase editing software, the software maker might use their revenue (from the movie producer and others) to buy food, and the food producer might use that money to take a bus, thus returning the money back to the bus driver. The total amount of money has not changed, it merely circulated in a loop, but everyone in the loop received benefits and produced value in the form of goods or services.
The real world economy has much larger and more complex networks of buyers and producers compared to the toy example above, but nevertheless it works on the same principle. Many people correctly associate the economy with money (or stocks in Ponytail's case), but may not understand the full picture.
Circulation of money is critical to a healthy economy. In a recession, financial hardship causes people spend less money, which leads to fewer goods being produced, fewer jobs available, and people earning and spending even less money. That is why (somewhat counter-intuitively) governments need to spend more money during a recession in order to infuse money back into the economy and get it circulating again. The mint printing more money is also a planned, strategic move to cause inflation, which encourages people to spend their money now rather than save it for later because it will lose value over time. Again, getting people to spend their money is necessary to maintain the economy.
Stocks in this context refers to companies listed on public stock exchanges, in which investors can buy and sell an economic stake, or share. Through pension funds, mutual funds and other investment vehicles, a large portion of the population of developed countries can therefore have an indirect stake in the success (or otherwise) of many of the businesses that make up a significant element of the economy (see above). An economy that is experiencing healthy growth would generally see the value of those businesses increase, and that is reflected in the value at which investors would be willing to buy and sell those shares. So a growing economy would tend to associated with rising stock prices.
- [Cueball is talking to Ponytail and White Hat. Both of them are looking at Cueball.]
- Cueball: Everyone keeps talking about "personal data." To be honest, I don't really know what it is.
- Cueball: I mean, I understand the idea and know it's a thing I should protect. But it's so... abstract.
- [Close-up on Ponytail.]
- Ponytail: Yeah.
- Ponytail: It's like "the economy." I don't really know what the economy is, if we're getting specific. I know stocks going up is good. For people who own stocks, at least.
- Ponytail: Whatever "stocks" are.
- [White Hat responds holding his arms slightly out. Both Ponytail and Cueball are looking at him.]
- White Hat: Yeah, or taxes. Everyone talks about taxes. What are they? Do I have to pay them? And to who?
- Cueball: OK, wait, you definitely need to learn about that one.
- Ponytail: Yeah, ideally sometime in the next few weeks.
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