We don’t blink an eyelid before accepting all terms the new torch app is going to ask us to sign in so that we can shine the light while finding our seat in a dark cinema hall.
Suddenly everyone is discussing data and privacy across the world. It took a jolt of the kind we were expecting, and maybe even knew was happening, to wake us out of our self-inflicted stupor. Facebook is now full of people posting about quitting this social network. There are others who are tweeting about it, to seem politically correct. A few days ago, all of us where playing Farmville and enabling apps that made our profile pictures look like that of film stars. What data of ours these apps were taking in return, we just didn’t care. Not anymore. The latest DP changing craze on Facebook is to look like you are concerned about your data. But let’s not kid ourselves by thinking we are. We don’t blink an eyelid before accepting all terms the new torch app is going to ask us to sign in so that we can shine the light while finding our seat in a dark cinema hall. We just didn’t care.
But the data we gave out to the world was obviously more valuable than we thought. When we liked the New York Times, the algorithm bracketed us with liberals; when we shared that Obama speech, it confirmed our affiliations; when we stamped the anger emoji on a right wing rant, research firms listed our names for a fake news brainwash. Yes, there was, in fact, no data breach; someone was just intelligent about using the data we shared, with the minor technicality that it could have been used against us and the core values we stood for. As luck would have it, when the Cambridge Analytica controversy was raging, I was moderating a panel of Data-Oil of the Digital Future at the #Future Global Digital Summit organised by the Kerala government. It didn’t take long for the conversation to veer towards privacy and Dr Suku Nair, director of the SMU At&T Center for Virtualization, underlined how unlike with oil, all actors in the data value chain are both producers and consumers of the same.
“As end users, how much information are we putting out on social media, when no one asks us to? And on the other hand, often we don’t even know we are giving away data, as with location information in smartphone photographs that we upload online.” Dr Nair said that while companies collect data with the best intentions, it is tempting to start using it for other purposes. Connecting property rights to data, Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan said we should soon find a way to establish identity or ownership of the data in some form. “Monetisation of data will grow exponentially in the coming days,” he said, asserting the need to ensure ways to link ownership to this new asset. As the world starts looking at taking ownership of their data, the established online business model of ‘use my service for free, but give me your data’ might have to change drastically. Whether large companies like Facebook and Google will play ball is not yet sure, but it is clear that there will be pressure on these data leviathans to align with norms like EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which could make the current models very tough to sustain. Now, we need to figure out if we are willing to maybe sign up for a paid Facebook or Google service that will not tap into your data.
Till we trudge down that new path, users will need to start owning up to their data. Ignorance is no longer bliss; it is just a shortcut to pain. For starters, go to Facebook and see the list of apps that are feeding on your data and see if they really need to. Why does a game app, for instance, need to know which school you went to or where you work? Why does a one-time DP change require you to surrender your friend list? These questions need to be asked now and acted upon. It is your data, and whoever you are, please don’t sell it cheap.