It’s hard not to sound like an alarmist when the current world we live in has already taken troublesome steps towards the erasure of individual privacy.
Generally speaking, lawmakers taking notes from dystopian science fiction novels tends to be a poor sign of how the world’s use of technology is shaping up in the big picture; People are becoming less an individual and more a data point on a cloud server carefully curated to know how to sell that data point more consumer goods or where that data point spends its weekends. Big data rests at the centre of the issue and more accurately rests how big data is collected and put to use.
The slow drip of data collection
While the idea of government data collection isn’t new, the term itself is still in its relative infancy. With existing evidence showing it may not have been a concept given its current name until the late 1980s, big data is still going through something of an awkward teenager phase where many of its core principles and concepts undergo change on a frequent basis.
It is a concept with many core problems that stand in contrast to what consumers should expect their data to represent; After all, the non-consensual collection of data about oneself might be considered a breach of privacy or even be called stalking on a personal level, yet at a business level it’s simply a multi-billion dollar industry.
Winding money into the already tangled weave of privacy and targeted consumer efforts makes big data a balancing act that few seem keen to approach sensibly.
Big data, big numbers, big concerns
The advent of artificial intelligence and automated data sorting is at the forefront of the quickly-developing nature of modern data collection. While there are plenty of potential upsides to AI, the speed and ease at which facts can be categorised and sorted without input from appropriate human oversight begins to approach a worrying state. Worse yet, businesses are left playing catch-up to data collection trends in a nonstop effort to remain relevant in the business landscape.
In a way it’s almost quaint to think ad services are the end-game for data collection at such a massive level. Data collection tools are seen more as a step towards quickly understanding userbases rather than fringe tools used to analyse niche markets and those who struggle to adapt risk being left behind, especially when those businesses keep a strong online presence.
We’re looking at an age where purchases, travel habits, website usage and browsing preferences can be used to build a fairly accurate depiction of what any consumer could possibly want or need in the near future. It’s a marketer’s dream and a citizen’s nightmare, especially if private data is leaked to unauthorised users. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica recently went through a very public leak which lawmakers the world over are still struggling to come to terms with.
Is the concept of the individual at risk of becoming an old-fashioned ideal?
Privacy concerns and ongoing solutions
As it stands, privacy is currently easiest to obtain at a personal level if the average person is willing to take a few steps to ensure their security, even if they feel this sort of preemptive measure shouldn’t be necessary. Virtual private networks and secure browsers are an important first step to ensuring an individual’s data remains in the hands of the individual.
Yet there are services aplenty designed solely to suck information out of you. If a website offers free services with no obvious means of financial recompense at a surface level other than serving you ads, chances are you pay for that service by acting as a point of data sold to advertisers and other private interests.
Appropriate levels of transparency at a business level gives the end user a sense of confidence that is difficult to replicate elsewhere, yet not every business is in a state that can handle such transparencies. If a business refuses to tell you how your data is being used, it’s probably safe to assume it’s being abused. Facebook may be handy for keeping up with friends but it’s not going to let you do so for free.
It may be more realistic to push for privacy concerns in a future sense rather than the now, aside from taking steps at home to stay as secure as possible. When industry and educational think tanks report ineffective regulations and laws regarding data privacy while outlining the risks these shortcomings present in the long term, it’s hard to have much faith in the status quo.
Yet little is lost until the fight is given up, even if you feel we’ve become numb to constant reminders of the ever-present digital eye scrutinising our every move. Just because you feel you have nothing to hide shouldn’t mean your life is open to inspection from every angle, nor should you fear corporations compiling neat digital folders on your darkest secrets only to lose them every time a firewall malfunctions.
Change takes effort and time. Until we demand the effort and put in the time to make privacy concerns a more conscious issue, we may as well be standing on the sidewalk and shouting our life details to anyone who will listen.