January 31, 2021•556 words
Privacy has become a buzzword in the last few years. However, does anyone really understand what it means? While I work in the industry, I am neither a trained privacy or security engineer, but I am privacy and security conscious. Lately, I have been having this nagging feeling that I am in the minority. In fact, I also feel like I am fighting a losing battle for both the privacy and security of my data. This is with good reason. There is an entire economy based on hoovering up every last bit of data about us.
It is not just about the big tech players that have been so demonized in the media and politicians. Those same media companies and politicians are in on the data collection scheme. The truth is pretty much EVERYONE wants data about you, buying habits, viewing habits, travel habits, health issues, web browsing habits, etc., etc. It is done for many reasons, some perfectly valid and some that are pretty shady.
One example is the merger of HBO and AT&T. HBO had historically maintained a very curated and selective library of shows that were perceived as high quality and had very high production values. This was supported through subscription fees that people paid via cable and later on with HBO Now. When AT&T took over, they pushed for more and varied content on HBO's platform. Much of which would be lower quality than HBO's typical fare. The reason being was that AT&T was less interested in the subscription fees than they were about gathering data about the viewing habits of its that was the real market opportunity. That data could then be sold to advertisers and other interested parties. Now, not only do you pay a subscription fee, but the information they gather about represents a whole new way to make money.
Another example is the various shopping club programs people belong like Safeway Club Card, Target Circle Rewards, etc. These are marketed as a way to save money on shopping but has anyone thought of why you save that money? It is because they are making more money using and/or selling the data that is gathered about its members. The more they know about you, the more they can target your specific buying habits with "Special Offers" and targeted advertising.
Then there is the classic example of social media. It's surprising, but it still comes as a shock how much data various social media companies track. Every post, thumbs up, message, link, and page view, is captured and analyzed to build a profile of you. This data can then be sliced and diced in many ways to create profiles about your demographic, you personally, and about many other things.
As the saying goes, "if the product is free, YOU are the product." More specifically, your data is the product. That is the devil's bargain you make when signing up for "free" services. However, this devil's bargain is also becoming more and more prevalent in non-free services. More on that next time.....