There is this Utopian viewpoint propagated by the social media mavens that while our personal data is one of our more important processions; both on-line and off-line, but we should feel safe with letting it become the property of companies and governments just because they have some cool social media interface to keep us occupied with.
The problem with this viewpoint is that it is delusional. Regardless of the organization, government, or business your personal data is in many cases the only commodity that they have that allows them to stay in business, or in the case of governments – in power. To think otherwise is short-sighted and only empowers the parties we entrust our data with to act more like slum lords than caretakers of the most important information in the world.
In many cases we make a decision; consciously or unconsciously, that whatever is being offered in exchange for that data is worth accepting the inherent risks that your data may be misused at some point. Sure we hear all the horror stories about how this company or that government agency has been caught misusing people’s personal information but that doesn’t seem to impede our willingness to keep spreading our data around the web.
In order to understand the breadth of the collecting, dissemination, and misuse of our data we need to understand how the different parties involved in this massive collection of personal data continually convince us their overall intentions are good.
It isn’t just how our data is misused on the web either as we are seeing more and more how governments especially, and in some cases in collusion with corporations, are creating massive databases containing even our most basic information like DNA. Under the guise of protecting society we have governments – at all levels – are increasingly using all the modern technological tools at their disposal to build and continually add to an increasing number of databases.
Whether it be from the information we are required to hand over for our driver’s license to DNA databases our data governments are continually adding more information about us. Traffic camera are being touted as a way to increase the security of everything including towns trying to give the illusion of safety to its residents living in this type of electronic gated community. CCTV camera in general are monitoring more and more cities around the world to the point that individuals can be tracked going about their daily activity with all the digital information being stored in these databases.
Increasingly these once disparate databases are able to talk to each other which allows any government agency to create an extensive profile of just about any individual in the world. It has become a priority with many governments to collect as much data about its citizens as possible from whatever avenues that are open to them and by any means possible.
Case in point is the the report out that the British police officers are routinely arresting people so that under British law they DNA is added to their national database.
Police officers are now routinely arresting people in order to add their DNA sample to the national police database, an inquiry will allege tomorrow.
The review of the national DNA database by the government’s human genetics commission also raises the possibility that the DNA profiles of three-quarters of young black males, aged 18 to 35, are now on the database.
The human genetics commission report, Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?, says the national DNA database for England and Wales is already the largest in the world, at 5 million profiles and growing, yet has no clear statutory basis or independent oversight.
The highly critical report from the government’s advisory body on the development of human genetics is published as the number of innocent people on the database is disclosed to be far higher than previously thought ‑ nearing 1 million.
While corporations might do whatever they can to collect our data it is primarily for financial gain whereas with governments it is more about finding ways to control its citizenry. There is nothing benevolent behind their reasoning beyond their own self-preservation and their control of power. Parties in power may shift but “government” stays the same and with each successive group of people in power the objective is to stay in that position of power.
To maintain that status quo technology is allowing them to control the one variable that has always given them the most problems – us.
There is one basic tenet when it comes to business: make as much money as possible by any means at their disposal and without any regard to laws and the rights of individuals. No matter how you argue this point when it comes down to the very core reason of business this attitude can be considered their First Law.
For the longest time corporations were limited to extremely generalized information about demographics. This was achieved by surveys, viewing patterns, shopping patterns, and social patterns.
Then along comes the Internet. In the beginning much of the data gleaned was similar to that collected pre-Internet although improved to an extent by modern technological data analysis methods. It was still a time of generalized information with only a glimmer of personal information making its way into growing corporate databases.
Corporations have proven over an over that until they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar their concern for consumer rights isn’t part of their money making equations.
It wasn’t until the coming of social media though that we saw the rise of web based businesses whose whole existence in nothing more than a disguise created in order to collect our personal data. It doesn’t matter how cute their names are or how they pontificate about openness and transparency. It doesn’t matter how they brag about giving the average person an avenue to be creative – to become a part of the social elite. It doesn’t matter about all the warm and fuzzy words like user generated content, social conversation, or even the most basic human emotive word – friends.
It is all about the data and the more personal they can convince you to be the more you are worth to them. They will do anything, say anything, or make you agree to EULAs or TOSs that give them exclusive control over your information shared on their systems.
Regardless of how you want to beleaguer this point the fact is that when you boil all these businesses down to what is their core value to anyone it all comes back to your personal information. That is the only value that any of these businesses like Facebook, Twitter or any one of the hundred look-a-likes that spring up every week have to anyone. It is that information that brings in the millions of dollars of advertising or makes them attractive to be the object of a purchase by a bigger company that wants that data.
It is true that for the most part we all walk into this deal with both the governments and the corporations with open eyes. For the most part… however that doesn’t mean that we should think that all this collection of our personal data is being done for any type of altruistic reasons.
Whether it be the simple act of entering our email in a form to friending some new person on a social network to click the ‘like’ link on a picture at some point all that personal data you are creating every day is going to become nothing more than an entry in a spreadsheet somewhere to be sliced and diced for money. You aren’t an avatar to either the government or corporation. You are a dollar sign to business and a potential danger to society to governments.
They can spew out all the glib speeches they like about respecting the private citizen or the rights of the consumer but in the end it is all about your data and how it will benefit those in the corporate boardroom or the halls of political power.
No matter how many rose colored glasses you might wear or how much you might want to believe in all the spin there is one simple fact when it comes to your personal data.
It will get misused.