Own Your Personal Data: It’s Your Most Precious Resource
There’s a common saying in the technology world: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” For years, users have willingly given their personal data to technology companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA) in exchange for free services. However, what is the cost of not owning your data? Is a lack of data ownership really worth what users receive from these companies?
How Your Data Is Used By Google, Apple, Facebook, And Amazon
Most users are unaware of the full extent that GAFA collects and uses their data. These companies, as well as many, many other technology companies, are constantly gathering as much data about their users as they can. This data can then be used to target people for ads, predict their behavior, connect with third-party partners, and more. While some users are ok with this trade off, the fact of the matter is that most people don’t understand just how valuable this information is, or the risks associated with their lack of data ownership.
The Issues With Data Privacy
Issues regarding data privacy have recently made headlines around the world, particularly in the case of Facebook & Cambridge Analytica. News outlets, including Wired, allege that Cambridge Analytica gained access to the personal data of more than 87 million Facebook users. This data was then allegedly used to target voters during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, as well as the Brexit vote. While Facebook users may have consented (knowingly or unknowingly) to use the quiz app where data was gathered, and further transmission of that data to a third-party would be a breach of Facebook’s terms and conditions regarding data privacy, the app’s permissions also gave Cambridge Analytica access to the data of every user’s friends, and Facebook has no real way to guarantee companies use the data they gather appropriately.
This begs the question: Just how strongly are these terms and conditions regarding data ownership enforced? Facebook has allegedly known about this violation for some time, yet only went public to try and head off blockbuster news reports from The Guardian & The New York Times. What can users do to protect their personal data if they can’t trust GAFA companies to do it for them?
How To Own Your Data
Most people aren’t willing to take the leap into deleting Facebook or Google entirely. However, there are ways that users can at least take better ownership over the data that is collected by these companies.
Here are a few suggestions from The Verge:
- Turn Off Location Settings — The ability to determine exactly where you are is incredibly valuable to technology companies. Review your settings to determine which apps actually need this data. This information would be useful in Google Maps, but does Facebook really need to know?
- Unlink Third-Party Apps — The issues with Facebook & Cambridge Analytica arose through the purchase & transfer of data from a third-party app. While this transfer may have been against the rules, companies can’t be trusted to follow them. Review all of your third-party connections on all platforms, and keep only the ones you absolutely trust.
- Limit Sharing Settings — The more public your posts are, the less data ownership you have.
- Remove Personal Information — Only supply the information that is absolutely necessary. The more data you provide, the easier it is for companies like Google & Facebook to make money off of it.
Beyond these suggestions, there are a few other ways that Internet users can have as much ownership of their data as possible. Blockchain technology is an intriguing possibility, as it can ensure that users have full control over who has access to their data, and what they do with it. Decentralized networks allow for better ownership by the individuals participating, rather than letting massive companies like GAFA and the Chinese BATX control the Internet. Finally, anonymous Internet browsing can also help prevent tech companies from monetizing the data that users should own.
Most Internet users have been blissfully unaware of the data privacy issues related to their personal data. However, as headlines like Facebook & Cambridge Analytica’s data gathering become more common, more consumers will demand data ownership. The EU is already moving in that direction with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will impact the rest of the world as well. In the meantime, people should take action to try and take back ownership of their data as much as possible. Why should someone else be making money off of your precious data?