Should we really stop sharing our data?

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We create data almost every hour of every day. Be it through mobile use, social networks or ecommerce sites, every digital move we make generates new data. And brands are greedy for it. This acquisition and use of consumer data has been thrust under the spotlight recently, cast as a nefarious practice rooted solidly in the dark side of internet use. 

Our very laws have changed in response to problematic data use. As GDPR and the NIS Directive settle into effect, we are gaining more transparency and more control over the way our personal data is used. Now, more than ever, we have the power to completely restrict the collection, storage and use of our data.   

But does the fact that we can stop sharing our personal data mean that we should? Howard Williams, marketing director at Parker Software, investigates the light and dark sides of sharing our data.   

Transparency and control 

The new legalities around data hope to reduce, if not abolish, the secrecy behind how our data is used. We must now explicitly give our consent about, how, when, why and what data about us is stored and used. We can stop sharing our data with the businesses and websites we interact with. 

The question is how far to exercise this new right. Just as software, computers, and the internet are not, in and of themselves, exclusively part of the digital dark side, your shared data isn’t either. Data is a tool like any other, and it can be used beneficially. Legislation is aiming to ensure that our data is only used ethically – not eliminate its use altogether. But the efforts might be too little, too late. 

Although we now have greater data transparency, that doesn’t take away the distrust that’s already started to fester. When we don’t know how, when, or why our data is being collected and used, it’s easy to feel as though our privacy has been violated.  

In fact, only 1 in 5 consumers have confidence in the way that their data is being handled. Given the choice, it only makes sense that we want to share less.   

The dark side of sharing our data 

The increase in cybercrime, the continuous drip of data misuse scandals, and the companies behind schemes to peddle our private data have hardly warmed us to the idea of willingly sharing it. There’s no doubt that sharing data has a dark side. 

Data is a powerful tool that’s easy to misuse. Our data lets brands push invasive adverts on us. It enables companies to discriminate against us. It can expose our weaknesses and vulnerabilities for businesses to shamelessly target with offers and marketing strategies.   

As an example, you need only look at the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal. This saw the misuse of personal data allegedly influencing the 2016 US election and ‘cheating’ the Brexit vote. Sharing our data can have heavy consequences when it ends up in the wrong hands. 

Plus, there is a personal risk that comes with being free with our data. As cybercrime rates soar, sharing data can potentially lead to devastating repercussions, such as identity theft and financial loss. Even with new safeguards and security procedures in place, if we can decrease the risk of falling victim to cybercriminals, why wouldn’t we? 

The light side of sharing our data 

Companies need to have our trust before we share our data. The new data regulations and legislations should serve as a way to support this trust building – not as a reason to withdraw as much of our data as possible. Our data, when used right, can do a lot of good for us, and the rest of the public. 

Firstly, it benefits research. The information made available by sharing our data can be invaluable to researchers and scientists. Our data is a valuable resource – it can give people the power to help us and others. Patient data has helped advancements in cancer research, and when Facebook made some of the data it collected available to researchers, it led to new realms of understanding.   

Sharing our data has helped identify depression in new mothers, and inspired the creation of AI that can recognise mental health signifiers for depression and anxiety online. In short, sharing our data can help generate positive outcomes for the wider public. Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, sharing our data enables more effective service. With so much of our spending and time moving online, customer service has needed to follow suit. Now businesses can offer products and services we like, attuned to past purchases and our online activity. They can help us find the best deals to suit our budgets, and they can recognise when we need support, so we don’t have to reach out first. Our data can help businesses give us a great, intuitive experience that saves us time and effort. 

Striking a balance 

Thanks to new legislation, we can identify when our data is used for reasons that aren’t ethically ambiguous. So, is there enough harm in sharing our data to outweigh the benefits? The control we now have over our data not only means we can stop sharing it far easier, but paradoxically, that there could be less of a need to.   

When consumers have the right to withdraw their data at any time – and demand that it be deleted – there’s less risk involved with sharing. Companies want to be able to use your data to improve their services and keep your custom; they aren’t going to deliberately rock the boat when you can see what they’re doing. 

Plus, with the increased transparency that GDPR and the NIS Directive require of businesses regarding personal data, consumers should have a better understanding of when and where they are comfortable sharing information. Transparency means that consumers can know when their data is safe, what their privacy risks are, and how to tailor their data sharing accordingly. The dark side of data sharing is becoming less ominous.   

It’s your data   

You have more control than ever before, and thanks to the new data legislation in effect, there is less need to be fearful of sharing your data. The consequences of data misuse are huge for companies, and not remotely in their best interests. 

From a more outward looking perspective, the benefits of safely sharing the data you’re comfortable sharing can spread to the wider public, as well as your own service experiences. Ultimately, the decision to continue, or stop, sharing our data comes down to every individual. It’s your data, it’s your decision. With the light and dark side of data sharing highlighted here, maybe your decision will be a little bit easier. 

Howard Williams, Marketing Director at Parker Software 

Image Credit: The Digital Artist / Pixabay