These days, everything is tailored to our needs and convenience – fast ordering and delivery of online orders, tailored advertisements, easy one-click payments and email discount codes. The internet makes things far easier for consumers, but often a return service is expected, and that comes in the form of your data and data identity.
We lose track of how much data we have already disclosed. Often, our data involves giving out our date of birth, contact details, address and name, but there is also far more sensitive information which we have used, such as bank and card details. Companies will then use this data to identify customers and store it in their systems. We also, unknowingly, divulge data about ourselves when we carry out online searches. Whether you search for gift ideas, nearby doctors or even film recommendations, we leave behind digital traces which companies will then use.
This combination of our different information then begins to form a clear image of who we are but personal things, such as our values and interests, which then create our identity. Companies want to win you over as a customer and with all this information at the touch of a button, your data is a valuable commodity not only to them, but hackers as well.
Data hacks of huge companies have hit many headlines over the years, with MasterCard, Capital One and Facebook’s Cambridge Analytic scandal all to name a few. Although the companies fight to regain their reputation, not much ever comes of the protection of customers and their data. What makes it so valuable in the first place, and why is it so bad when control is lost over it?
Data: The Resource of the Digital World
For the past few decades, many of us have had no real option but to hand over our data to companies, but data cannot exist without being used somewhere. Since the introduction of the internet, the only place where data can “exist” is within the servers of tech companies, but this has also meant that the value and potential of our data has been hugely restricted.
There is a reason as to why new tech fields are emerging, which roles focus on the collection, processing and analysing of people’s data. For example, data strategist and data experts. In a recent study which focused on data protection, 85% of IT decision-makers said that data is as valuable as cash payments when it comes to business interactions and overcoming challenges.
In another survey, it was found that consumers were aware of the contribution which their data made to the economy. 60% of people assumed that the more private their data is, then the more a company could pay in return. This means that discounts, better services or even free products are given to consumers in exchange, but these services are strongly adapted to the user data which is available.
Data Being Used as Merchandise
The business model of some companies is based solely on the collection of user data. Facebook and Google, for example, have billions of daily users and both of these companies provide their services free of charge to users and then earn their income with advertising. With just a few clicks, these companies have enough to determine precisely what your interests, political views and preferences are, only to then re-advertise to you at a later date.
Reportedly, Facebook ran a trial where they paid users between the ages of 13-35 up to $20 per month in exchange for a detailed insight into their smartphone usage, including chat conversations and most frequently visited websites. With this in mind, how much exactly is our data worth, and why?
Finding out the value of your own data can be hard to secure. There have been many different trials and data calculators set up in order to try and estimate an average price, however, what is perhaps the most worrying, is that each of these trials was unable to find a price over $1. Whilst this seems low, and slightly insulting, that our personal data is considered so invaluable on an individual scale, if you combine the data from billions of daily users, then the monetary value rapidly increases.
Following on from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is now mandatory for every business to show how their data has been acquired, stored and processed, so that users can decide for themselves whether or now they want their data to be collected. Website and app developers must also be aware of data protection laws and regulations, particularly when it comes to GDPR on their apps or sites.
Protecting Your Data Identity
Legislations have very clear opinions when it comes to the value of personal data. Every individual is worthy of protection and the personal data of individuals should be protected, whereas information from companies is not included within this same remit.
Personal data is something which identifies or makes an individual person identifiable in particular and can come from names and dates of birth. Indirect links are seen to be sufficient also, so customer numbers and IP addresses also come under the same remit of protection. There is also data which numerous laws classify as particularly sensitive.
Consumers now have more rights and companies have stricter requirements when it comes to collecting data, for example, both the storage and collection of data must always be purpose-orientated, as well as following the principle of data minimisation and must be protected from unauthorised access in the form of third parties. Personal data must be protected from unauthorised access and their respective companies, and this includes unauthorised processing and protection of data against loss and damage.
Corporate Data Security
Companies must now ensure proper data protection and prevent data and information loss should a cyber attack occur. If a company does become the victim of a cyber attack, then not only is the data of customers and employees at risk, but also company data such as trade secrets and confidential files. Whilst this data isn’t usually covered by data protection regulations, protection must be provided. This means that companies have double the responsibility as they must protect their own data as well as their customers and employees.
There are a number of different measures which a company can take to protect its data from cyber hacks. Data encryption is one of the most popular and there are various different encryption mechanisms which can be used for data storage, such as end-to-end encryption on emails which converts plain text into coded messages, which are only accessible by those with the correct key.
Recognising the Value of Data
Data is a hugely precious commodity in modern daily life and, thankfully, consumers are growing increasingly aware of the data which is being collected about them on a regular basis. Protecting this data is becoming a high priority for companies, but ultimately, what the stored data is used for and what conclusions can be drawn from it, is unlikely to ever be clear to anyone other than the companies who use it.