By Dr. Nicole Gross, Change Team, ARCH

As consumers today, we feel liberalised and empowered. We have plenty of choice and information, we buy online and offline, we shop around and we are switched on 24/7. We are technologically enabled – browsing, surfing and googling around, combing through other consumers’ reviews before we buy and vent our opinions when we are not happy. How did we even live without the internet, our smart devices and tech-platforms?

Gone are the dark ages of supplier dominance, lack of information and limited access to products or services. In fact, we have flipped the market on its head. Thanks to the sophisticated technology platforms that are available to us at the click of a button, we have become suppliers ourselves. We shape the market, selling our things on ebay or Craiglist, Uber-ing our spare passenger seats or renting out our back bedroom on AirBnB. We are in charge of our own destiny…or are we? Our liberalisation has comes with terms and condition which we struggle to understand – never mind control (Forbes, 2014). We are talking about the rights over our own data.

Nicole blog dataDo we know how much data is held about us? Through our everyday consumption, engagement patterns and GPS tracking, we generate in-depth information about ourselves – not only at any point in time but also on a longitudinal basis. Collectively, the tech platforms know who we are, where we live, what we’re interested in, what we eat, drink, do and buy, and even where we are at most times. For example, ‘Google Takeout’ permits us to download the information which Google mines about us, but not all tech platforms allow us this level of access. As everyday consumers, how aware are we of the detail and scope of our digital crumb trail? Do we know how our information is used and how the tech platforms monetise our data? For example, Google and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter sell our information to advertisers and marketers (Independent, 2015). Even Apple and Windows collect information about us, including our name and contact data, credentials, demographic data, payment data (Windows), contacts, music, location and anonymised calendar information (Apple) – some of this data is being passed to targeted advertisers (PC World, 2015). For platforms like LinkedIn, Uber and AirBnB, strategic data is also becoming an important asset over time (Nudge, 2016). Even our internet service provider is collecting information about us, enabling them to piece together significant amounts of information about us based on our online activity (Huffington Post, 2016). Mining and selling our data can even involve our basic human building blocks – our genomic information. 23andme, a US-based DNA testing and analysis company, offers to tests key elements of our genomics (‘snips’) for as little as €169 (23andme, 2016). However, major revenue is being made by 23andme by their selling on aspects of our genomic information to big pharma like Pfizer (TechRepublic, 2015). These platforms have a lot of power and choose what to do with our data – store, analyse, share and most likely, sell it. Considering their revenue models, it becomes clear that we have become the products of these platforms rather than being their consumer.

Isn’t it time that we, as well as the tech platforms, commit to change when it comes to the ownership and management of our own data? Whilst most tech platforms adhere to basic data protection regulation, most of them fail to consult with their customers when it comes to how their data is mined or used. However, with digital privacy on the ropes, and public cynicism running high, this model of disengagement is becoming less sustainable. What is more: are companies are missing a trick by failing to invite their customers to engage in transparent data transactions (TechCrunch, 2015)? Ethically speaking, companies should allow us to fully own and manage our down data, or at least treat us like the owners of the data, so we can choose to do with our personal data what we want: delete, store, share, donate or sell. Economically speaking, organisations which invite their customers to engage in transparent data transactions can distinguish themselves competitively, increasing brand loyalty and reaping financial rewards (ibid). With clear win-wins for both sides of the trade on the horizon, which big tech-platform will be first to understand the shifting landscape and give us what we want!?

 

References

Independent UK (2015), Apple boss Tim Cook slams Google and Facebook for selling users’ data, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/apple-boss-tim-cook-slams-google-and-facebook-for-selling-their-users-data-10295158.html, accessed 22nd March 2016

Forbes (2014), Key To Internet Of Things: Consumer Empowerment,  http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2014/12/04/key-to-internet-of-things-consumer-empowerment/#3d2751a66665, accessed 22nd March 2016

Huffington Post (2016), It’s Your Data: Empowering Consumers to Protect Online Privacy, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-wheeler/its-your-data-protect-online-privacy_b_9428484.html, accessed 30th March 2016 

Nudge (2016), What Do Uber, Airbnb, and LinkedIn All Have in Common?, http://www.neednudge.com/what-do-uber-airbnb-and-linkedin-all-have-in-common/, accessed 22nd March 2016

PCWorld (2015), The price of free: how Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google sell you to advertisers, http://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook-microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html, accessed 22nd March 2016

TechCrunch (2015), The Latest Big Data Innovation Is Consumer Empowerment, http://techcrunch.com/2015/06/29/the-latest-big-data-innovation-is-consumer-empowerment/, accessed 22nd March 2016

TechRepublic (2015), When your genome costs less than your iPhone: The beautiful, terrifying future of DNA sequencing, http://www.techrepublic.com/article/when-your-genome-costs-less-than-your-iphone-the-beautiful-terrifying-future-of-dna-sequencing/, accessed 22nd March 2016

23andme (2016), Get to know you. Health and ancestry start here, https://www.23andme.com/en-eu/, accessed 22nd March 2016

You can contact Nicole on nicole.gross@ucd.ie or call 01 716 5409. Check out our website for more information about Nicole’s research interests.

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