The Struggle to Define and Control Data Privacy

The recent data privacy scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has really opened up an interesting period of collective soul searching regarding huge tech firms that operate utilizing “big” data. The overarching question that is being asked and, frankly, still needs to be answered is “what exactly does data privacy mean to us in the digital age?”

Unfortunately, the recent Senate and Congressional hearings in Washington, DC involving Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to do little to clear anything up. Both major political parties in the U.S. are mad and who knows what havoc any resulting regulations or legislation will produce. Especially since it seemed like so many inquisitors had such limited understanding of what Facebook is or what it does.

Naturally, it is important that we as individuals should at least have the opportunity to own and manage our own data. However, the devil is always in the details and the details are found in lengthy and, for most of us, incomprehensible legalese of data privacy agreements. We so often click “I agree” without giving any of it a second thought. This is an area where the big tech companies can do better. And, as consumers, we have to do better as well.

What would help is a more enlightened understanding of the world we live in now. The tech revolution has been good for all of us who have chosen to take advantage of it. And we have to accept that many things that we touch and interact with through technology requires data in order to operate effectively.

The responsible collection, use and sharing of that data coupled with the necessary and proper protections, can have important benefits for us all. Not only in the businesses and jobs created but all of the knowledge and experiences that can be delivered to us via laptops or mobile devices. From a publisher perspective, collecting and utilizing data is job one as a means to deliver optimal experiences to their readers. If publishers are able to see which platforms their readers come from and account for their preferences, for example, they can offer more personalized options to those readers. Both in the form of articles and advertising. And let’s not forget, advertising pays a lot of the bills and helps keep publishers in business bringing us the content we desire while also keeping the cost of content subscriptions down.

Privacy controls and the policing of those controls, especially in the area of data sharing, need to be strengthened and obviously transparent. It will be a struggle. But the end result will be protection for both the people whose data reflects their lives and those who want to use it in a positive manner. When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) arrives in May, it should lead to a much better understanding of the data/business ecosystem and the overall effects on publishers. Europeans will be equipped with more tools to manage their data and we’ll find out if the serious financial repercussions of the misuse of data and violations of privacy considerations will be the deterrent the European Union hopes for. We will get a clearer indication of how comfortable users are in exchanging their data for more optimal experiences. The world will be watching as countries like the United States consider similar regulations.

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