Consumer Respect Is Good Business

Analysis. The latest consumer surveys show that the business model – tracking-by-default – where you pay with your personal data without knowing how much and to whom – is suffering. Individuals want control over their own lives, and they have begun acting on their worry over losing their privacy.

If an assistant in a clothing store asked you to disclose all your contacts in your phone, all your photos and your constant location, then you would probably say no. But every day you probably says yes to countless digital services which harvests your data via your gadgets. Facebook apps in the form of, for example, this quiz, where you can make a word cloud over one’s most used words are just one example of a service that really clears one’s mobile data. But other companies, such as Spotify, follow Facebook’s footsteps and behave as ‘data-vampires’.

States and companies are all tracking individuals' behaviour online. A business model which is not sustainable in the long rund

Both companies and countries closely follows individuals’ whereabouts online, but the business model – which one could call tracking-by-default – has an expiration date

The tracking-by-default business model has reached its peak. One survey  after another show that consumers are deeply concerned about their privacy, that they want control over their own lives, and also have started acting on their concerns. Companies that do not listen to consumers, risk ending up as ExxonMobil. The consumer of today is  where consumers were environmentally for a few decades ago; they are concerned, they are looking for tools to help them, but it is still too inconvenient.

You can point to three trends; fake data, digital mistrust and digital self-defense.

Fake data

1 in 3 Europeans lie about their data to protect themselves, the Symantec State of Privacy 2015. A more recent study by GBG shows that it is 2 out of 3.

The fake data is a threat to growth and efficiency that many countries and companies expect with big data. False data or incomplete data is not as useful as real data, and therefore we will see a race between the companies that are trustworthy enough for users to hand over their real data, and those who are not but behave as a data version of the ExxonMobil.

Digital distrust

Consumers around the world are showing digital mistrust. Least confidence can be traced across search engines, social media and news media – who often reap the bulk of the users’ data without being transparent about what they are doing. The most trusted industries, banks, hospitals and partly insurance- are all  well-regulated industries according to the Symantec study. The GBGs study further confirms the trend of distrust with 8 out of 10 consumers being confident that companies will sell their data to third parties.

‘Data distrust is coming at a cost to businesses. Data is the fuel of the digital economy, and if there’s not enough or if it’s of poor quality, businesses will not survive. People have, quite rightly, placed a bounty on this information – whether it’s their name, location, items bought during the weekly shop, or even biometrics – because it’s their personal property. Businesses must treat it as such,'”said GBGs chief executive, Richard Law to the website Smallbusiness.co.uk.

Google has already figured out that the advertising model – with heavy tracking of consumers –  is not sustainable in the long run, and has proclaimed that in the future, it will make more money on cloud services than advertising revenue. Google is not only threatened by consumer distrust, but also by Facebook, who sits on a better infrastructure when it comes to tracking intimate details about consumers.

Digital self-defense

The third trend is that consumers not only emits false data to protect themselves. Increasingly, they exercise ‘digital self-defense’ and make use of a number of tools to help block for monitoring and tracking. That being use of alternative search engines like startpage.com or hulbee.com. Or use of cookie and advertising blocker tools like AdblockPlus, Disconnect.me or adblockfast.com. According to Harvard Business Review, there are 200 million active adblockers installed. Also use of tools that   can hide your IP address like VPN-services or the browser TOR, which means that you can stay anonymous online are increasing in usa.

Finally, there is a trend of total obfuscation. Two professors behind the book, Obfuscation, A Users’ Guide For Privacy and Protest, Helen Nissenbaum and Finn Brunton, have even developed TrackMeNot, a browser extension (a small program) for Firefox and Chrome. It hides users’ actual search trails in a cloud of ghost queries, significantly increasing the difficulty of aggregating and using the data to identify users.

So while Facebook, Google and Spotify lead the data harvest and capitalization race, a new market for companies that put consumer in the center and give them power over their own data are seeing the day lights.  The privacy concerned of today are in the same situation as the environmental concerned of the 1970s. Back then they had no tools like they have today where they can buy organic, sort their food waste and buy certified wood. Similarly, privacy advocates see a rising number of privacy-enhancing technologies – and especially European companies – backed by a new personal data regulation – will be able to ride along this wave.

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