Open any newspaper at the moment and you will find articles on personal data and privacy and Armageddon. Well, not quite, but you could be forgiven for believing that Big Brother is very definitely watching you and will punish you for that online purchase of Chas and Dave’s back catalogue. He should, but believe me he will not. There is a lot of confusion about data security and consumers are focussing too much on the wrong areas. They are not controlling the areas they should and they are worrying too much about data sharing that can do them good.
People post too much stuff on social media and blogs. This data can be used against them in the short and long term, specifically targeting them as individuals. Be it the local burglar who is very interested that you are ‘stoked to be on the piste’ or the health insurance firm that is ecstatic to see pictures of you waterskiing, or the potential employer who is intrigued by the shape of that cigarette you smoked 10 years ago; the point is they are looking for you as individuals.
What is a greyer area is the use of data by companies looking to spot you as a type and analyse your trends as part of your cluster or segment. These data uses are much more benign and potentially very beneficial, in fact there is a movement that declares we should share more and more of our data if we are to really get to the bottom of health and behavourial issues that blight humanity. Now it is our data and it is our right to keep hold of it but what we really need is a balanced discussion on how and, to what end, it will really be used.
Newspapers and commentators have a role to play, we need to move from abstract hysteria to specific discussion. Companies have a role to play - some of the immediate online targeting that has emerged as they try to make sense of the new ‘online all the time’ world is scaring consumers and missing the longer term and more beneficial data uses. And yes we as individuals have a role, let’s tighten up on what is really important and look to understand how we may gain from our ever increasing online data footprint.