Data Privacy

Only trust can set data free – but with power comes responsibility

Trust is key to living life online – but the actions of some threaten the peace and security of the rest of us.

In the same week a survey of US web users found that almost half of households had a user who had been deterred from shopping or banking online, or posting on social media, because of the “chilling” effect of privacy concerns, researchers thought it was ok to release the personal data of 70K OKCupid users, including details about sexual desire and drug use.

The researchers claimed that the data was already public, as technically anyone on the site could access it on individual profiles, but they have been criticised for releasing it in bulk without any attempt at anonymisation or, much more pertinently, getting the consent of the users concerned.

The biggest concern today stopping users from sharing more personal data is the lack of control over what happens to it once the initial purpose is complete.

The new GDPR legislation becoming law in 2018 will give a huge boost to personal privacy concerns in this area, only allowing information to be used for the requested action and not re-used or sold on, as well as the right to the withdrawal of consent at a later date.

But the truth is that current unscrupulous methods, from the researchers mentioned above, to ad tracking firms which scrape our data without consent and then follow us around the web, are harming innovation and openness from which we could all benefit, in pretty much every area of our lives.

Open data is a great and wonderful thing – bigger datasets fuel quicker scientific progress, the planning of new services and products to meet genuine needs and, within companies, deeper and better relationships with consumers.

Data that all can see, draw on and use for the greater good can help write wrongs and generally formulate a better world.

Many minds make great work – and the more data they have to do that with, the merrier.

Health, in particular, is ripe for data-centered innovation, which could help predict and prevent illness based on patterns in other patients with similar lifestyles or symptoms, or even speed up cures by providing more data for greater numbers and frequencies of studies and trials.

But there is – understandably – an unwillingness to share this most personal information when scares over cyber attacks and a general feeling of lack of control is rife. Not to mention the fact that companies benefit from the value associated with our data but we, all to often, do not.

So the onus is on those working responsibly with data – such as, which never sees, touches or holds your personal information – to firstly be clear about this, and secondly work with legislation and like minds to make trust in personal data strong again.

The sharing of data benefits everyone from individual users to companies to scientists – but those of us doing it right lose out while there are still shady practices making the headlines.

And this is why it is imperative to find a new way, returning personal data to the control of the individual and changing the very basis and structure of online advertising so that it doesn’t take our data without our consent.

The data-driven innovations we seek and know are ripe for explosion will still happen – but they’ll happen sooner if a broken system can be re-energised and trust restored.

And so those of us who are the keepers of the trust flame need to shout long and hard until everyone moves to the beat of our drum.