Your apps are watching you. Do you know what they know?

You may not know them but online marketers certainly know you.

They know you often in far more detail than you could imagine. On it’s own, online marketing is harmless- targeted advertising is effective advertising, and the advent of big data and predictive analysis will transform advertising from an art into a kind of engineering design. But that’s not the privacy problem.

Everyone is collecting your data. Beyond the usual suspects (some of the big software companies), grocery stores and even gas stations are collecting information about you. Your spending habits and preferences are being compiled to generate profiles about you. But that’s not the privacy problem.

The U.S. Government was hacked twice recently. Imagine that! Sensitive information concerning at least 4 million federal workers was stolen. More proof that nothing is hack-proof. In fact, Verizon Enterprise Solutions estimated that $400 million was lost in 2014 due to security breaches- and that was only from the 70 companies they covered. Still, this is not the privacy problem.

The privacy problem is about informed consent. Or rather the lack of.

You and I feel helpless in this data privacy war. We feel resigned to giving up our personal data. We don’t know what kind of information is being tracked, which app or website is tracking what and who the potential end-users of that information are.

And that is the problem.

When last did you read a privacy policy document?

Ages ago. Or perhaps you’ve never read one.

That’s understandable. Reading privacy policies is arduous, tiresome and boring for anyone who’s not a lawyer. This is probably intentional. These businesses make it exceedingly easy for us to purchase their products yet they artificially engineer ambiguity when it comes to privacy policies.

The end result is that we have no idea what information is gifted to the apps, websites and businesses we frequent. This information can be stolen or traded. I mean, if the U.S. Government can be hacked repeatedly, then we are all one piece of cake. Hereafter comes identity theft, credit card information theft and personal redlining (businesses charging certain customers more for the same product or service). 

This needs to stop.

My recommendations

I'm no expert in cybersecurity or information technology but these steps could move us to an era where we have greater control and awareness of our personal data:

  1. Businesses should summarize in very clear, simple, lay man’s languagewhat information they collect and how it is used.
  2. Customers must publicly and collectively praise companies who are crystal clear about their data collection plans. Companies with ambiguous data collection schemes should be publicly shamed.
  3. Privacy policies can be kept as they are for the lawyers and investigative journalists to pour into if they so desire.
  4. Businesses should highlight any updates to privacy policies in similar simple language to consumers.
  5. Laws that encourage transparency should be passed.

Using big data to add value to the customer experience is perfectly fine. In fact, I welcome more creative suggestions that will help me make better buying choices.

But I certainly do not welcome engineered ambiguity in the form of manipulative privacy policies that take advantage of customers. We shouldn't mindlessly gift our data away since it's becoming clear that nothing is hack-proof.


How will we win this data privacy war? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or tweet at me