The recent survey into attitudes to privacy proves the point that people are nervous of how they behave online. The survey, conducted by British company YouGov, asked almost 10,000 people from nine different countries about their online behaviour and attitudes to companies using their data.
70% of people are worried about how big tech companies use their data and a third of people actively avoid certain terms and words when searching online.
Not only are they worried about what big tech is doing with their data but they are also worried about Governments spying on them.
The whole issue was put under the spotlight by the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year – and the way that it was handled (badly).
One answer, as we have said before, is not more regulation but regulation with teeth. The General Data Protection Regulation across Europe is not only toothless but a laughing stock. Months after the regulation was introduced, many of the EU’s own departments were not in line with the regulation. The only real outcome seems to have been to make it more expensive and difficult for companies who comply to market their products. There are many companies who have simply ignored the regulation and still think it is right and acceptable to bombard people with daily emails.
The only other outcome seems to be that it has given Government a law with which to try and bring big tech companies to book. Or at least get some money out of them via fines, since big tech is very good indeed at not paying tax.
What would have been extremely useful as part of the YouGov survey would have been to ask whether these nervous people would be prepared to pay for using online services. If so, that might be a solution – pay for the privilege of being online or accept that your data will be used.
The other effort is Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his new Contract for the Web. This, as John Tanner points out, relies for its success on a critical mass of companies and Governments signing up and, as he also points out, there are some Governments that will not want to sign up to keep something open and free. To gain a critical mass will take time and that in itself may be its downfall.
The only other possible solution is the novel Vendor Relationship Management idea, where you, as customer or user, own and control your data and actively sell it based on your current requirements. So, if you are looking for a holiday, you might describe certain criteria and an agency might sell that requirement to holiday providers.
It seems unlikely that ‘enforcing’ freedom and openness and niceness will be effective now that the web has become unassailably commercial. It is equally unlikely that people will pay for using the web because there will be commercial companies who will keep it ‘free’ as a differentiator.
The most likely answer will be one that falls back on the principle that the customer is king and if enough customers get angry enough to act, then that might be the only hope.
Privacy is undoubtedly the issue of the day. The sadness is that, if big tech companies had explained how customers’ data would help, well, everyone have a better, more relevant online experience, we would not be where we are today.