Data privacy – how I changed my mindset

I’ve been running a couple of different events on big data and cyber security recently, and it has got me thinking. Typically, as a Generation Y, I’ve grown up with technology and I’m hot on keeping my personal data secure. If anything, I’ve become a bit neurotic about it in recent years; I always check the new permissions any apps want to use – and I regularly choose not to use a service if I am not happy with what they are demanding.

Having said that, my control can only go so far (as is true for anyone that uses the internet at all!); think about how Amazon automatically stores your bank card details, or the cookies stored after you do a search – 5 minutes later and you can see adverts for what you’ve searched coming up on your Facebook timeline. Google collects massive amounts of personal data from you, but somehow, I’m ok with that. In my opinion, what I get back from Google outweighs the cost in personal data that I have to give to it. Similarly, with so many free apps and services available to us, we must know that we have to pay somehow – and often it is with our personal data. So the question I had to ask myself was, why don’t I think this more often?

The soul searching really began after we held a discussion between farmers and technologists around making private data public for mutual benefit. On first reaction, if I were a grower I wouldn’t want any of my information made available (eg, crops grown on the land) either. However, we then looked at a case study from the Netherlands where data had been made available – and the numerous benefits resulting from it. Even more interestingly, some farmers were not happy their data had been released – but that data had already been public, albeit not so easily accessible, for years.

It just got me thinking – why am I so protective over my data? More often than not, this data is readily available should you care to look hard enough for it. This point came up from the farmers – you might want to protect data about what you are growing, but actually if I were that way minded, I could drive to your field and look in to see what you’re growing. This isn’t exclusive to farming, either.

Many of us forget how much data we give away to competition websites, social media – even when applying for jobs. We let this happen, but we are unwilling to share for future potential rewards? Perhaps that’s just it – it’s not an instant, assured reward. If you post your holiday pictures on Facebook, you know within a minute you can have a comment or a like on there. If you submit your data to an ongoing project to pool data in your industry, you might not see results for 4, 5 years – even though the potential rewards are far more impressive than 5 likes on your cat video. This all pulls back into how society is moving into a world of instant gratification – you want it, you can have it right then and there. The prospect of working towards something for a decade is one that we just don’t consider anymore.

After all this soul searching, I am becoming more relaxed about what data I give away, and certainly better at calculating the cost/benefit ratio. How valuable can your data be whilst locked up in your top drawer, anyway?

Written by Becky Dodds

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