In the digital era, our data is currency. But as connected devices and systems become more popular, privacy is a growing concern. New technologies, mobile applications, gaming systems, websites and e-commerce platforms have made personal data more accessible and easier to collect, while advanced A.I. systems can now use those data to sort and categorize us. Often, this happens without our knowledge or oversight.
In the year since the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal, questions remain about the right to privacy in an age of surveillance capitalism. While some data is used legitimately to improve products and services, other data is used to capture our attention, anticipate our choices and nudge us to particular decisions.
Numerous advocacy groups, trade associations, tech companies and legislators are now debating a number of issues related to privacy, including rights to data ownership and portability, a digital bill of rights, and standardized tools that would allow people to protect their digital privacy.
While we all seem to care deeply about our privacy, we continue using social media, websites and gadgets that don’t necessarily put our privacy first. A great example: In the spring of 2019, millions of people uploaded photos of their faces to an app that would automatically age their appearance in the images. We learned later that the app, owned by a Chinese company, could legally use that database of biometric data as it pleased. A majority of Americans believe their online and offline activities are being tracked and monitored by companies and the government with some regularity, according to the Pew Research Center. And yet most people aren’t confident that corporations are good stewards of the data they collect. Pew’s research found that “79% of Americans say they are not too or not at all confident that companies will admit mistakes and take responsibility if they misuse or compromise personal information, and 69% report having this same lack of confidence that firms will use their personal information in ways they will be comfortable with.”
At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, privacy and data ownership were key topics of conversation, with some policymakers and CEOs advocating for a new paradigm in which consumers would “own” their data. Others recommended a model in which consumer data would be treated as a public good. The regulatory environment will only grow more fragmented this year. In the U.S., California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) came into effect in January of 2020 and governs how businesses collect and share personal information. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) is now being enforced. Illinois also has a restrictive state law on the books, preventing automatic face recognition and tagging, but if you cross the border into Indiana, you’ll find much more lax restrictions on collecting and using an adult’s data.
Losing consumer trust is tantamount to losing their business. Once it’s gone, it can be difficult to earn it back.
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