Consumer Data: Profitable or Sacred?
January 5, 2019
Stephen Hawking once said, “I don’t want to write an autobiography because I would become public property with no privacy left.” But what if, with new technology and a competitive economy, companies are writing our autobiographies for us through every shopping trip and word typed?
We are a generation of over-sharers. By over sharing life statuses on social media or venting on online forums, we have given permission, almost willing offering up our personal lives to profile pictures on a screen. The important distinction here is that it’s our choice to do so.
In March 2018, it was discovered, in a rather dramatic fashion, that 87 million people had their data improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling firm. It all started with 300,000 people.
300,000 people gave permission to the results generated from the quiz they willingly took. But what they didn’t know, was that in doing so, the company was illegally gaining access to their friend’s data—their likes and dislikes, their beliefs, their friends—in order to make political profiles, altering advertising and strategies for both President Trump’s and Senator Cruz’s campaigns.
The world stood shocked when the scandal was uncovered leading to extensive media coverage and congressional hearings. Even so, improper data collection is nothing new and even when collection is legal—the consumer most likely isn’t aware of it.
With the new-found capabilities available on the internet and the amount of time consumers spend on it, data created by searching, buying, and providing personal information is a valuable and accessible tool for advertising.
Since there is a plethora of information available, however, it is easy for sensitive information to be used in a discriminatory or unprotected manner.
In a recent study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, it was found that Google featured a specific advertisement for executive positions starting at $200,000 1,852 times to men and 318 times to women.
ProPublica investigated Facebook’s advertising policies, discovering that using Facebook user data, companies could easily advertise equal opportunity advertisements such as rental housing while excluding any “undesirable” demographic from “Spanish speakers” to “mothers of high school kids.”
With a growing amount of competitive business and groundbreaking innovations within the technological industry, a large value has been placed on user data—advertisements can follow an individual across websites while big-name companies sell sensitive information to third parties that most likely do not have consumer safety in mind.
From a positive standpoint, dangers of online data collecting are slowly entering the forefront of media headlines and individuals’ minds; According to the Pew Research Center, one in four Facebook users have deleted their Facebook account in the past year.
With user rates and stock value down, Facebook serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when data misuse is made public and consumer trust is lost.
Even so, apart from refraining from using the internet altogether, numerous companies will be collecting names, preferences, birth dates, and habits with every click and subscription a consumer makes—with our current culture no amount of caution will slow and change current trends.
In order to restore a balance between consumer and data-collecting businesses, government regulation will be necessary to both secure consumer trust for business and protect consumer privacy.
Having control over what personal information is shared should be a fundamental right as both a consumer and American citizen—and no amount of advertising profits can change that.
Interested in promoting the fight for consumer privacy? Contact us!
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