One of the biggest concerns in tech right now is the fight for data privacy. Especially with the exponential growth of the Internet of Things, both public and private data will be easily accessible and it’ll be much harder to opt out of sharing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, open data will help enable everyone access to more information to benefit the greater good.
Concern is rising more so due to the general public’s poor data literacy. What’s important is to distinguish what sharing data means and why it’s irrational to withhold data from companies.
As shown by the data spectrum above developed by the ODI, your personal data can span across closed, shared, and open segments. By sharing personal data, that doesn’t mean anyone in the world can access it - rather the entities who demand it consists of the ones making better experiences for the products you use, doctors looking after your wellbeing, etc..
The existing paranoia
Paranoia exists because most people feel like the Facebook’s and Google’s are spying on them. The viewpoint that this is an invasion of privacy is irrational. In fact, it gives yourself too much credit.
The reality is - one individual isn't that important.
Google and Facebook don’t have an intern spying on each and every move you make. They don’t have someone reading your posts, emails, or messages thinking of unique ways to sabotage your life either.
When used individually, this data is run through different product features to optimize your individual experiences. Used in aggregate, millions of these individual data sets help push new waves of insights and products that creates value to their consumers at scale.
Think of Netflix’s recommender algorithm. By viewing what you’ve watched and how you’ve rated them, they can personalize an experience that offers you very clear recommendations of movies and shows you’re likely to enjoy. This immense value exists because Netflix’s recommender system has access not only to rating and movie history, but also sensitive demographic information including: age, gender, and location.
Using the aggregated data generated by their users, Netflix can use machine learning to refine the recommender system for people on an individual basis.
The sale of 'sensitive' data
Selling data is another topic people are concerned about. In fact, it’s the number one concern for people polled by Altimeter.
Data isn't transacted by two hooded men at a dive bar with a paper envelope.
Almost all the information gathered is viewed alongside millions of other sets of data. The sale of aggregated data provides immense value to society and consumers.
Openly sharing your data, including search, location, crash reports, etc. help make products you consume better. Search is another great example - one of the best uses of Search data is by selling it to companies for remarketing and ad services. A study by the Network Advertising Initiative found that behaviourally targeted ads were twice as effective as non-targeted online ads thus leading to increased revenues and consumer spending.
Google doesn’t really care that I searched for ‘Culinary arts classes’ last night. However the data is something they can sell to marketers to provide value to me. The data becomes mutually beneficial in helping both marketers and me have a more intentional experience online. It’s inefficient if the ads I got during my time online concerned baby products, Harley Davidson’s, or Halloween decorations if I was never in the market for them. Instead, having an ad recommending gastronomy courses would provide real value.
Targeted ads are one great example of how selling Search data provides real value to consumers.
Another example of how selling data can be immensely useful is in the health sector. We can agree that personal health records are indeed sensitive information. However, aggregating multiple people’s health records to form a robust data set can help researchers combat the next and existing forms of diseases.
By allowing open access to companies and health professionals, big data can be used to create real value to society.
Value that could potentially save lives.
In this case, no one is out to get you and no one is looking to exploit your risk for specific illnesses for gain.
A final thought
Overall, the battle for more privacy will wage on and unfortunately it’s not up to businesses to educate consumers on data privacy. In fact, despite what I said above, there will be those that still fight against free and open sources of data.
The irrationality of not sharing data is something that stifles innovation more than it promotes privacy.
So next time say yes to sending in a crash report - you’re helping make experiences better.