Consumer Data And Privacy. What Are the Opportunities For Individuals?
The aspect of consumer data privacy is one of the most burning topics of today, one that continues to generate controversies and minimal legal actions.
As our lives grow increasingly dependent on being connected to the vast global network and on sending and retrieving data, all our eyes look forward and try to picture how the future will look like.
Each time you spent time online, you will leave crumbs behind, bits of information that are meticulously collected by entities to serve various goals.
The impressive harvest of consumer data mostly takes place under the umbrella of improving user experience and delivering personalized ads.
There are numerous harmful ways data can be used. Collecting personal information comes from the same family of data mining – that includes fraudulent activities like phishing! The worrying part of it, is that it happens in the background and the user has its hands tied. For example accepting cookie policies or agreeing with a site’s “Terms and Conditions.” Nowadays, such browsers warnings are so common people do not even bother to look at them, let alone contest them or think of alternatives.
Consumer data collection has become an inherent part of being online, although social studies revealed a huge percentage of users feel particularly uneasy about knowing that personal information about them is gathered, assembled into databases, and even sold for profit.
Individuals are left with only a few options that can ultimately increase their privacy, some of which put them dangerously close to the gray line separating black and white online practices.
VPN (Virtual Private Networks) are by far the easiest way a user can bypass the many filters scattered across the online landscape. VPN’s exclude any other third party that might want to intercept a two-way communication by encrypting the data and offering the key only to the authorized parties.
Another option is to surf the Internet using Tor, a free software that enables anonymous communication and by hindering any attempt of network surveillance or traffic analysis.
But, tools that allow you to stay hidden are not always saviors.
The Internet culture often regards the need for privacy as a sign of fraudulent or forbidden actions. Many of our digital nomad colleagues have been locked out of traditional services, like banking or shopping sites in the US and Europe, whilst using some form of privacy tool. Some countries explicitly ban VPNs, and there is a growing tendency to discredit Tor, as a haven for organized crime and shady operations.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the primary source of concern regarding consumer data.
Not long ago, only a few types of devices (laptops, smartphones, etc.) could connect to the Internet. Nowadays, that list has expanded dramatically and threatens to include almost everything people use on a daily basis. Concepts like smart homes and smart cities are becoming real, as developers finalise the last steps, making the integration of smart lives – irresistible to the end user.
The biggest problem with allowing technology to make your life easier and more comfortable is that it relies on data to achieve that, lots and lots of (free) personal data.
Each new smart gadget creates a fresh flow of data, and someone is always at the other end or at points along the way to receive it. When it comes to the Internet of Things the only alternative for individuals is to delay (as much as possible) the sharing of personal data. As far as experts see it now, the Internet of Things is inevitable for the future, and the benefits will always outweigh the concerns individuals might have regarding privacy.
The topic of privacy in the online environment is so powerfully connected with other aspects of modern society and there is just no simple or straightforward solution.
People with concerns, put issues of national security, especially terrorism in the same basket, often ‘forcing’ certain emotions onto the public. Expanding online privacy and setting it free from the shackles of intrusion is indeed a concern.
An interesting suggestion derived from industries that have had more time available to develop good practices is – informing individuals and allowing them to make an educated choice. The same way clothes for example – have simple instructions on their tags, websites might signal in a friendlier manner the policies of privacy they adhere to.
Information like how long personal data is stored, what kind of data is collected, as well as – if that data is up for sale should enforce you with the possibility to opt out rather than embrace the daunting task of reading and understanding the bulky legal section. The Internet should develop transparency and allow you to sanction those who do not adhere to fair play practices.
Spend some time over the next month to think about the fairness of having all your personal (online) data collected and used for marketing and more mysterious purposes.
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