The rapid growth of technology has produced massive shifts in how we pay for our goods and services. From precious metals to coins to paper notes to credit cards, there has been a large evolution in the way we pay. But today, consumers, often unknowingly, pay in what could be their most precious asset: their personal data.
New buzz words like blockchain, cryptocurrency, machine learning, natural language processing, quantum computing, and virtual/augmented reality each have an integral common denominator: data. I think it’s safe to say that America runs on data (sorry Dunkin.) But the functionality and easy accessibility of data has raised major questions about consumer data privacy and how companies use (and exploit) that data.
In general, technology companies are data goldmines. Google, Amazon, and Facebook alone store insane amounts of consumer data due to their diversified businesses. These companies provide countless services like search engines, cloud computing services, marketplaces, video-streaming services, social media accounts, voice assistants, and much more. Through these diverse services, large technology companies store basic personal information, locations, recordings of conversations, and ad preferences.This data is often used to improve the customer experience. Data is also often shared between companies, allowing for higher risk of data leakage.
To see the sheer power that data holds, we can point to Facebook user data being breached by Cambridge Analytica, a firm working for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Cambridge Analytica was able to collect user data from over 87 million users of Facebook and used stolen data to influence the presidential election. While Cambridge Analytica misused data, Facebook was the real loser. Not only did Mark Zuckerberg expose himself as a non-functional human being in front of Congress (I had to throw this in), but he brought widespread awareness to the sensitivity of consumer information.
Other companies like Google and Amazon have also had their fair share of “Data-Gates.” For example, Google was recently sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for misleading consumers about the collection of location data.
The butterfly effect of large collections of data by tech companies has been met with negative responses. In one case, like the bizarre death of Silvia Galva, Florida police requested data from an Amazon Echo in hopes of uncovering the truth behind her death. This case brought up many ethical concerns like Should Amazon be storing consumer data? and What kind of data can be given to law enforcement? Another case was Google analyzing Zachary McCoy’s location data, making him a suspect for a home burglary. Google’s location services show that McCoy biked past the home in question, flagging him as a potential suspect. McCoy was innocent, and this incident made him rethink how much data he shared with his device. Many cases like these have forced people to question their willingness to share data; still, many of us have yet to read the Terms and Services of using an application.
These incidents pose the question: If data storage is such a problem, then why not heavily regulate it?
Unfortunately, it’s not easy. As of now, there is no single federal law that dictates how companies can collect, use, and store consumer data. Instead, there are many laws like “HIPAA, FCRA, FERPA, GLBA, ECPA, COPPA, and VPPA” which protect different sectors of consumer data. While these laws are important for data protection, there are so many acronyms that you get lost in an alphabet soup. Furthermore, different states have varying degrees of data protection laws, which differentiates how some companies are regulated.
As data continues to be wound into the fabric of society, the importance of data protection laws will rapidly increase. The best way to protect yourself and your data is to be vigilant of how much data you share. In most cases, the consumer allows for the storage of data by agreeing to the terms and services of an application. Maybe it’s time to put on some reading glasses and understand the fine print.
Technically Speaking is an Opinion culture column used to discuss topics relating to technology, such as pop culture, trends, social media, or other relevant subject matter.
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