Privacy and Business : Selling who YOU are !

Have you ever provided your email on a coupon site to get an extra 10% off or have you allowed access to your contact list just to avail an offer that guarantees you some bucks when your friends use a similar service ? If you have, you are putting a price tag on your personal data.


                                             It might seem really harmless to provide small pieces of information about you to get some “deserved” offers. Implicitly rewarding customers for sensitive information is not something new on the web services but with online space expanding at the rate it is now , it becomes imperative to protect personal information from a lot of bad storage spaces around the world. In the 21st century we are living our lives simultaneously in both the physical world and the cyber space and its safe to say that its pretty easy for the cyber space to know what’s going on in real time.Be it providing location information in exchange for photo filters, logging into social accounts, looking up online prices for products or utilising services like Google Maps , Swiggy , Yelp we are constantly helping both these world to coalesce which doesn’t pain a pretty picture (at least for a general consumer). When a person moves into a public space he/she is willing to be seen by strangers , willing to open themselves up to scrutiny from unknown personnel or acquaintances however one does not roam around holding a record of his personal details (bank accounts/shopping histories/phone number) on a placard. We have learnt how to make a trade-off in our physical space. We know the upsides and downsides of attending a public gathering/presenting ourselves to the outside world after assessing the COST and BENEFITS of our actions. Social and physical boundaries help us make these decisions comfortably. But the question is :

” Are we really equipped to estimate the cost and safety of our information in the cyberspace where ethic is not really a word in the dictionary ?”

                                                 About a decade ago these problems din’t seem to exist. It was because the physical and cyber spaces were rigidly separated and we had altogether different behaviours in both of them. With the advent of everything “Smart” in our lives the cyber world has had many entry points into the physical and the overlap is way too much to distinguish between.The entry points are too many and the barriers too little if not none at all. In a major slip up,a fitness app’s(Strava) heat-map accidentally gave away the location of secret US military bases. There’s really a lot some countries (read Russia) would have been willing to pay for information like this but never in their wildest dreams would they have planned contacting the Strava headquarters in California. This example is quite extraordinary as neither the runners nor the office personnel at Strava realised what collecting and plotting something as trivial as your daily run route could present them with.

“Users do not act optimally in the privacy for service marketplace — sometimes they will decline entire useful service models, while other times give up too much privacy for services of little value to them. Such inefficient marketplaces are disadvantageous for both the service providers and the customers.”  – Damla Turgut

                                                     So how much is your data really worth ? In an age where data is the new oil its really hard to put a specific price tag on your e-mail , phone-number or your location. Acxiom , one of the world’s largest data-brokerage firms recorded $1.1 billion in sales last year offering “analytical services” on 144 million households. And that’s just a fraction of the evolving big-data industry. Data is now a $300 billion-a-year industry and employs 3 million people in the United States alone, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. And if this was not enough you can yourself try out the “worth calculator” published by The Financial Times.

                                                             While collecting and storing your data is imperative for some services to operate , the real problem is how these services use your data against you. Looking at data companies are eagerly waiting in line to predict private behaviour of individuals. Cambridge Analytica was able to predict (for over 50 million Fb users) whether they were homophobes , outright leftists , staunch supporters of family values , fake liberals and liberals who are likely to “push for change”. Psychological profiles like these are extremely dangerous if used strategically. The US President has used these services to a good effect and you can be sure that he is not alone. These prediction profiles sounded like conspiracy theories a decade ago but now a days are being used to market products to consumers and consumers to firms who are making big bucks off common people using this confidential information.

                                                 Protecting data is of grave importance and should be the top priority of any government. Selling , analysing and consuming data is here to stay but regulations are not in place and in the end it can hurt us bad , really bad since it is only the end consumer who will bear the cost of protection as well use of his data against him/her.



SST View All →

A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.

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