Post #76: Keep your data close; maintain your social distance

COVID-19 has changed many things. We’re all spending more time and money online. What happens to our data may not be top of mind, but more people are at least…

Post #76: Keep your data close; maintain your social distance

COVID-19 has changed many things. We’re all spending more time and money online. What happens to our data may not be top of mind, but more people are at least beginning to ponder the question. The annual ‘Cost of Privacy’ survey by Okta (a listed San Francisco-based identity management business whom your author met last September) makes for fascinating reading on this topic. The report, published last week, summarises the views of 12,000 people polled 6 developed world nations.

Among the statistics of note, fewer than 50% of Americans were aware that either their shopping data or their social media posts were being tracked (the figures are 42% and 49% respectively). Indeed, a greater percentage (55%) remain of the view that their offline conversations are tracked. Might your microphone or Alexa-like device be listening after all?

Perhaps the more intriguing debate should be around the value of data for a large portion of it is already being tracked. Only one-third of respondents globally said that they would be willing to share (more of) their data if they were paid for it, whereas just over three-quarters were adamant that there was at least one type of data that they would never sell (typically browsing history and/or location data). Libertarians take note. Has COVID-19 changed anything? Just 26% of the American respondents highlighted that coronavirus and contact-tracing had made them more aware of the potential benefits of data tracking. Nonetheless, a much bigger percentage (71%) were emphatic that they were not comfortable with the idea of being tracked for social distancing compliance purposes. Trust, of lack thereof, seems to be the biggest part of the problem. Comparable statistics for other countries are more reassuring, but far from overwhelmingly supportive. General worries centre on whether insurance, medical or law enforcement agencies may have access to individuals’ data. 

As we’ve noted regularly before, for data to have any value, it needs to be stored, secured and analysed. However, as the data deluge continues to grow (90% of all data did not exist 2 years ago; in 4 years’ time, the world’s data will have more than quadrupled – per McKinsey and IDC respectively), discussions on this broad topic are becoming increasingly politicised. The conflicting aims of politicians, regulators, the mega-cap tech firms and other key stakeholders will need to be reconciled. Expect this debate to run, perhaps for even longer than the COVID-19 pandemic.


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