Data Sharing, Is It Inevitable?
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
What is data?
Data is being produced constantly. Every time you go on your mobile device, data is being generated. Every time we go on the web, that data is being captured and it has value. Data is just information, digitized. When we use the internet and have free access to a website or social media service, we are making a trade: free website access, for our data. Once we begin using a free online service or website, our data becomes the product.
Why do companies want data?
1.) To sell the data.
2.) Feedback from a product to increase customer satisfaction and value.
3.) To improve on business partnerships through data comparison and sharing.
4.) To share data that is otherwise closed off from different managed systems.
Data sharing is not a new thing. It has been an inexhaustible resource since the internet was created. Traditional ways of sharing data requires sharing data in flat files, which is expensive and requires the consumer to reconstruct the files once received. It is impractical. However, new ways of data sharing are being created so that it can be used for businesses and research.
Why is it legal for companies to share your data with others?
Like we stated before, if you're not paying for the product, then you are the product. In the US, there is no single, comprehensive federal (national) law regulating the collection and use of personal data. There is, however, a large selection of federal privacy-related laws that regulate the collection and use of personal data. In addition, there are broad consumer protection laws that are not privacy laws as such, but have been used to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices involving the disclosure of, and security procedures for protecting, personal information. If you are curious about the specific list of these laws, then you can go to last months blog post and read up on what's protecting your personal data. The link to read that is here.
The laws that are regulating data collection put your data on a scope of closed to open data. To help you understand what type of information is being shared, the Open Data Institute (ODI) gives a great visual of personal data on that spectrum:
Should we be scared?
As the global network is still expanding, we are coming into an age where privacy feels out of an internet users control. Many feel that they no longer have the ability to control where their personal data is being shared or how it is being used. While complete privacy on the internet may be an unrealistic desire, there are some pointers we can give you for navigating the worries and risks that come with your data being online.
What personal data are these companies using? As we saw on the graphic from ODI, there is a spectrum of closed to open data. This can be anything from financial information, health records, to the websites you’ve visited in the past couple of days. The part that many people don’t understand is that much of your data is encrypted. Important information, specific information, such as passwords, bank account information, etc. cannot be shared legally due to several federal laws that protect them. ( Which you can read about here.) Companies use the data you create to profile you. Our preferences, likes, favorites, etc. are not random, they reveal an algorithm. When all the data from the thousands of likes, dislikes, searches etc. is all combined together, it creates a highly accurate profile. In fact, more accurate than a human could construct.
Digital marketers are struggling to keep up with the rising demand of efficiency and convenience of products. Your data is the gold that they need to understand what you would like to see in the ads marketed to you. Say you’re using Facebook (and remember it’s a free web-service). They run ads to make money. If they didn’t use your data then you would be receiving random ads that have no interest to you at all. Would you rather be seeing something you can potentially buy and use, or something that is irrelevant to your life? I suppose that is up to you and the values you hold as a consumer.
I know throughout all of this you have been wondering why we haven't touched on security breaches, Facebook's enormous data fail with Cambridge Analytica, those who do get personal information stolen, etc. You're right to be worried about the lack of security many companies seem to possess. The truth is that even the most trusted companies who hold your information are still learning the best ways to protect you from all the attacks coming against them. Even the most secure companies risk data security breaches. The most proactive thing you can do is take action to strengthen the ways in which you may be vulnerable to security breaches, hackers and scammers. Having strong passwords, using different passwords for every account you have, changing your passwords monthly, and having a reliable anti-virus software on your computer are just a few steps you can take to be prepared. And if this interests you, look out next month for our detailed article on how to secure your personal data.