Tech companies are profiting off of buying and selling our data, which gets harvested whenever we share something on social media, listen to music, or watch TV shows. We’ve lost control of our data, signing it away while only skimming the terms and conditions in exchange for “free” services (free consumer tools are never really free). The question is: what is the solution to our loss of privacy and is there a way people can reclaim their data? We’ve noticed several computer scientists arguing that letting people “own” their data, dictate where it goes, and sell it to companies for a profit is the solution. Here’s why that idea is impractical.
For This to Work There Needs to Be Regulations to Protect Data
The idea that people should be able to sell their data sounds good in theory but will it work in practice? Many consumers live in a world where their data has already been commercialized—it is already bought and sold by companies. This is the norm in many jurisdictions, most notably in the US. Given this set up, companies don’t have an incentive to switch to a system where they would buy information with consumers’ consent. There would need to be something that gives the consumers’ information weight and value.
But what is that something? One possibility is regulations to protect people’s data. If laws were in place that prevented companies from using people’s private information without explicit consent, then maybe companies would feel incentivized to purchase people’s data. If there were laws that say companies are not allowed to use people’s private information, then maybe companies would feel incentivized to purchase people’s data. But we need to ask if these regulations would work—if companies would comply with them or if they would simply find ways around the regulations, making them just formalities.
The Financial Model Needs to be Viable
But even if the regulations are in place that incentivize companies to want to buy data, would the financial model be viable? In bulk, data might be worth a lot of money, but when you divide huge amounts of money among very large numbers of people you are left with a small amount of money per person. There needs to be enough of a financial incentive for people to want to participate. Considering that companies are after consumers who have money to spend it is even more doubtful that a small financial incentive will be enough to attract the individuals sought.
In short, it’s easy to suggest that the solution to data harvesting is setting up a system that allows consumers to sell their data to companies. It’s much harder to set up that system in practice. There needs to be regulations in place that make consumer data valuable enough for companies to buy and there needs to be a financial model in place that will encourage both consumers and companies to participate. Suggesting that consumers sell their own data isn’t the straightforward solution to data mining that it’s presented to be. We need to explore other options, as well.
At Vaporstream, we strongly believe in the importance of privacy and security and protect your data each step of the way. Learn what makes our communications platform secure and private here.
Author: Avi Elkoni