Internet users spend a lot of time on the internet whether on social media or carrying out transactions. There are arguments concerning user data found on different platform and whether it should be considered private or public. Consider data found on a person’s Facebook profile which is considered publicly available. It is even more complex to distinguish private and public data when a person is using a personal device such as a smart phone or laptop which is connected to a public network and whose data is stored on public servers. From a technological viewpoint the digital world has blurred the distinction between private and public data.
Now comes in data aggregators who collect data from different platforms as well as websites and sell it as third party data. Note that the aggregators are not the actual original collectors, but acquire the data from publishers as well as 1st party data owners. Take the case of Cambridge Analytica that lead to the recent Facebook scandal where the personal data of about 87 million users mostly in the US was obtained by an analytics firm.
There is no much talk publicly on data sales, but the industry is flourishing. Different industries are interested in purchasing data, such as an advertising company will be interested to know geographical information of persons who like a product posted on a social platform. Such information is important during their marketing campaigns as they know which areas or people to target. Market research firms will also work with aggregate data to create reports that analyze and give insight into the direction of an industry. Of course, there are many other industries interested in acquiring user personal data such as Insurance, Healthcare, lending/Credit, Financial services, and many others.
Unfortunately, many users are not aware of how the data they share willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly is used. Many users would attest to receiving spammy messages on their email inboxes or certain advertisements on their social media accounts. For instance, when one searches for certain information from the internet and start receiving advertisements related to what they were searching for. It is unethical that third parties collect user data and make money from it without the user consent. Unfortunately, the dilemma surrounding online data uses and whether data found online is public or private and whether is made complex as there are no strict regulations on data use. Even in cases where data use regulations have been put in place, the data handlers may fail to strictly follow them.
In an interesting turn of events, Datacoup is a company that wants users to have control over their data. The New York-based company argues that if companies can make loads of money from collecting and selling user data, the individuals should gain as well. Although Datacoup work in a similar way like other aggregators, the difference is that they are transparent and only collect data that users agree to give away. An interested person only has to create an account with the company and as a Datacoup member, one has access to specific information being used and why it is valuable.
Whether users consent to their data being used or willingly sells their data it is important that users are aware how their data is being used and by whom.