The web was originally seen as the great democratizer of the Internet, by providing access to information for the masses, however, the current landscape is far from democratic. The true clockwork behind these systems is our data. Below Rafael Laguna CEO at Open-Xchange, explains.
Although we have access to a wealth of seemingly ‘free’ platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google, all of which are seen as vital for modern life, the true cost of them is largely unknown. We are paying for their services with our personal data, but we are in the dark as to how this is being used and stored. What was originally intended by Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web to be a ‘free and open network’, has become monopolised by the likes of these internet giants, and the public has little choice but to trade personal data for essential services.
In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, and against a backdrop of high profile business data breaches making headlines, the value of our data has entered the wider public psyche to an extent, but there still lies confusion. Both governments and businesses are struggling to navigate the ‘tangled web’ of rules and regulations. As a society we also have to ask the question – do we trust a government to protect us and our data? Those of us working in the technology sector have a duty to inform others and to work together, towards a future that will ensure our personal privacy is protected. From a legal perspective, either your right to privacy is protected – which will mean that the privacy of an attacker is protected as well – or your data is vulnerable, but it is more difficult for terrorists or serious criminals to communicate with one another.
We live in a monopolised society with internet giants taking precedence. Even though Facebook has 2.23 billion users, there is no doubt that a substantial chunk of users don’t trust the platform. In fact, should Mark Zuckerberg decide to change the privacy rules to the point that a user no longer wished to remain active, there would be no easy way of transferring data to another platform. Following GDPR, you can now delete and download your data, but there’s still a long way to go, especially in terms of transparency and how your data is actually used. In some cases, there’s over a decade’s worth of personal contacts, messages, photos and data, stuck in an abyss. Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have all recently put their names to the Data Transfer Project which is an open-source, service-to-service data portability platform. Although it’s a step forward to hear that these companies are considering this approach, it’s too early to say exactly how soon, and how easily users would be able to transfer personal data from one platform to another. Furthermore, it will also need to be adopted by countless companies, which, until now have trapped our data under lock and key.
Data has been kept in silos to ensure monopoly and encourage further monetisation. By predicting our preferences and tracking our online behaviour, businesses know our likes and dislikes, and are monetising this, by altering the cost of what we’re about to purchase. Added to this, we are putting ourselves at risk through our continual search for convenience. It’s the norm for internet users to access new sites through their existing Google or Facebook log in details. You can save payment details to a device, as well as your address, email, personal details; although this makes transactions much quicker, it begs the question: how secure is our personal information? Although we’ve all received an onslaught of new privacy notices from companies, users often just tick ‘yes’ without fully understanding and reading the small print. This leaves users vulnerable and putting their data at risk for simply the ease of logging in to a site.
It’s also been reported that if you’re a Mastercard holder in the U.S., Google is now able to track your ‘brick and mortar’ spend to monitor the effectiveness of online ads in the offline world. Highlighting how at present, it is incredibly difficult to control and manage the sovereignty of your own data – with even your offline data entering the unsettling gaze of internet behemoths like Google.
In the last three decades, the internet has completely revolutionised the way we communicate, work and live. We owe it to future generations to maintain an open and federated digital world; understanding the economic value of consumer trust is the first step to making this a reality. The future lies in an open, borderless and safe internet. By doing so, we can empower Internet users to make their own choice and decide whether they want to see a free and open web, or if they want to become another brick in the ‘walled garden’. Users need to take stock and understand the true value of their data and how to protect it.
Similarly, businesses have a duty of care, and granting privacy only when it doesn’t impact revenue is not acceptable. Privacy rights are fundamental and any business that doesn’t respect them by getting proper consent from users should be severely penalised. Every company needs to ensure that it is being transparent about how it gathers, stores and uses our data.
It’s an education process on both fronts and understanding the value of data has to be the first lesson.