Data makes the internet go round. It fuels the digital advertising industry, which in turn supplies free content and services – but only if you allow your personal details to be 'harvested'. Some folks mind, some don't, but make no mistake, this is happening.
"Apps on our phones and tablets share data with advertisers, many legitimately by disclosing their data collection practices in line with legislation and industry best-practice," says Danvers Baillieu, COO at VPN company Hide My Ass. "However, giving out personal data should be a choice and not an obligation, and consumers shouldn't be duped into handing it over by free services simply because they are free."
Who actually cares about personal data?
It's a classic Millennials versus The Rest issue. According to research by mobile analytics and device detection firm Netbiscuits called 'The People's Web', privacy is a consideration that diminishes over generations, with 61% of 18-24 year olds allowing third parties to track and cache data, compared to just 36% of 55-64 year olds. As many as 71% of 18-24 year olds are willing to give up location data in exchange for additional services.
"While there is much media hype around privacy and protection, it was clear in the survey results that the emerging millennials generation are rapidly moving away from their elders in their views on sharing personal information when value of content is available," says Daniel Weisbeck, CEO, Netbiscuits.
It's also a geographical issue, with mobile web users in the UK less sensitive to sharing information than elsewhere. Just 34% in the UK would abandon a site if they're asked to share their location, compared with 45% in Germany.
Is personal data really being harvested?
Oh yes. "Data makes the world go round, not money," says Rafael Laguna, CEO of open source web-based software company Open-Xchange. One example is a new breed of company that specialises in turning consumers into their best-selling products.
"In Germany, we call these companies the DatenKraken – the harvesting of personal data with the aim of generating more and more revenue," says Laguna. "For companies like these, their actual customers are not the individuals who use their services every day, but the advertisers who use the insight that's extracted from analysis of the data that individual users carelessly generate and give away to sell."
Now that just doesn't seem fair.
Does it matter if we give away our personal data?
Perhaps not to everyone, but it is getting worse. "The increase of content being created, shared and published is driving all new service models to monetise how people freely share information across the internet," says Laguna. "Why should we sit back and allow our content to be used and abused by the likes of Facebook all for the benefit of its shareholders?"
How can we stop the DatenKraken?
Easy – we put internet users in control of their own personal data. "The way to reclaim our data, salvage the internet and stop the development of an Orwellian nightmare is to turn the tables on the DatenKraken," says Laguna, "and be given the option to sell our own personal data to them for a fair price. He who pays the piper calls the tune."
This comes alongside a wish for a free and open internet where the storage, manipulation, sharing and deletion of personal data is solely up to each of us.
Do people mind surrendering data if they know that it's happening?
Apparently not. Research entitled 'Privacy vs Personalisation' by customer identity management platform Gigya found that consumers are willing to share personal data provided the process is convenient and transparent.
"Personalisation depends on access to high quality and authentic data about customers," says Patrick Salyer, CEO at Gigya. "Our study shows that if you ask customers for permission to use their data and explain what you are going to collect and why, you will learn more and establish a foundation of loyalty and trust. Organisations must reject the outdated – and, quite frankly, careless – notion of asking as many questions and collecting as much data as possible, then sorting through it later."
Put simply, when a website selling you a garden hose asks for your date of birth or occupation, you're going to trust them less. "Customers always have the right to ask, 'Why do you want to know that?' The more times they have to ask that question, the less likely you are to earn their patronage," says Salyer.