Brislen on Tech: Informed consent
We live in an age of over-sharing, yet privacy is increasingly coming into focus as an area we should all pay more attention to.
Apple has raised the stakes this week with its introduction of new features that help users understand just what data they're giving away to the social media giants (in particular the Facebook group of apps) in exchange for cat pictures.
Of course, Apple is doing this because it thinks it will make more money than if it didn't do it. It's part market positioning, part product differentiation, part sticking it to a big could-be competitor in the marketplace - in this case, Facebook.
Facebook has, along with any number of other social media companies, made a fortune out of providing users with a warm, safe environment in which to share cat pictures, recipes, school-day recollections, wedding photos and so on, in exchange for something that most people apparently don't really care about: tracking information on their journey around the World Wide Web.
For the last decade or so, this has been the norm. Share your information in exchange for access to a network of friends, family and like-minded individuals. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, even LinkedIn follows this trend to varying degrees of success.
But they all rely on one item - selling your data to advertisers for their use.
Assuming it works as advertised (and that's not a given) advertisers love this data set. Finally, they can see what you're actually doing online, what you're actually shopping for, what you're researching, what you're saving for, what you're scared of, what you're dreaming about and they can tailor their advertising to you specifically.
Of course, if advertisers can do it, so too can other organisations that want to sell you something - politics, religion, you name it, you can find it online and they can find you.
For some people, this is a godsend. Finally, you can find your tribe. Finally, someone realises you do want the secret places to visit on your big international holiday (when we're all allowed out to play of course). Finally, that group of people accept you for who you are and don't shun you because of your beliefs in raw milk, the Illuminati, secret government plans to abolish the death penalty and what that means for student achievement or whatever. If you can think it up, there's a group out there with your name on it.
But for others, this level of invasion into your daily lives is just too much. Do you really want your home wifi listening out for any mention of a product so it can be added to your shopping list? Do you really want your web browser monitoring your movements around the web so it can sell your demographic data to advertisers? Do you really want to receive targeted advertising, targeted news alerts, targeted media content ("If you liked Paddington 2 we recommend Citizen Kane") and all the rest?
The answer is some do, some don't, and therein lies the problem but also the solution.
It all boils down to giving the user control over their data, and control over who accesses it and for what purposes.
It's about informed consent, which is why Apple's move might be a cynical reaction to Facebook's might but it's also very much a moment of empowerment for users. Now you can decide whether that app is worth giving away your data for. You as a user can decide how much you want to share and how much you want to keep to yourself.
And that's a very good thing as we move more and more into a world where our offline life is largely dictated to by our online movements.
Taking back control is only the first step.
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