Do You Know Who Is Sharing Your Data?

Who knows you best? Your Mum? Your partner? Maybe your best friend?

That may be the case for the moment. However, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data industries developing at breakneck speeds, it might not always be the case. Regulation of where your data goes and what companies can do with it is woefully behind the curve, and it is a fact that very few of us are aware who knows what about our lives.

We can’t deny permission if we don’t know who has it in the first place.

Privacy is definitely the elephant in the room in the Big Data revolution, and for the industry to move to the next level, some searching questions have to be asked and then resolved.

To give an example, Google’s 2014 purchase of Nest (who currently make intelligent thermostats and smoke detectors) raised a few eyebrows. This is their first step towards the idea of an “intelligent home” – as the devices talk to each other, Google can build a picture of human behaviour. As more similar devices come into our homes, the picture will become even more detailed. Do we really want companies like Google being able to predict our every move?

There was also the example of the US store Target that used customer analytics to send pregnancy-related coupons to one of their customers. By comparing her purchasing habits with thousands of others, they guessed (correctly) that she was expecting. The only problem was that she hadn’t told her family yet. Her privacy was grossly invaded, but stores around the world continue to use our data in this way.

People are fine with sharing their data if they think that they (or others) will benefit from it. There is huge potential in healthcare, for example. The issue at the moment is that no one truly understands the extent of their “exposure.” Can people track your phone? How many websites that you have visited might produce a “red flag” in some system somewhere? How predictable is your daily routine?

The problems often arise when data is sold (and then resold) without your knowledge. There are also the all too common data breaches, and I can’t personally envisage a future where they will be fully eradicated. There will always be a clever hacker who is one step ahead of the security guys.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of the power of Big Data. I do believe that the industry is still too young to be choked by mindless regulation, but the day will come that something will have to be done to make everything more transparent. Without trust in a relatively far-reaching privacy “code of conduct”, consumers simply may not buy into the IoT revolution after all.

It isn’t so hard to turn a thermostat up an extra degree…

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