The amount of data collected on you increases every year. And recently, the slope of the curve is getting steeper as there is much more data to collect, including your demographics, digital footprint, purchase history, where you are driving, how you are traveling, your network of friends, and even some of the most intimate details of your personal life.
At the same time, we’re not living in a Brave New World or 1984-type society where there is only one collector of this data, akin to the all-knowing Stasi in East Germany. It is actually much scarier than that. The number of actors collecting this data is growing astronomically. Today there are tens of thousands of actors collecting information about you and these include corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and others.
Of course there are a lot of apparent and unapparent benefits to having all this data collected. We can obtain readily accessible credit – the underpinning of why the U.S. economy is so strong – due to the fact that our debt payment data is easily accessible. Micro-targeting to your likes and interest is much better than receiving irrelevant spam. And very few web sites would work well without cookies grabbing your site preferences or shopping cart info.
Up to now, consumers have been willing to tolerate less privacy for the benefits of a frictionless world. But they are getting increasingly uneasy about this trade, especially since the trade is becoming a far worse deal for consumers. Data collectors are not giving enough back to consumers and that needs to change.
We believe that consumers will demand and receive – either by consumer action or government regulation – the following three rights:
#1 – You should know more about yourself than anyone else knows about you.
Consumers should have the right to find out what data is being collected about them. As a consumer, you should be able to go to DoubleClick, AdBrite, Advertising.com, Google, Yahoo, Aggregate Knowledge, etc. and a list of all the websites that track you. You should be able to go to Choicepoint, Experian, Acxiom, Rapleaf, etc. and see all the data they collect on you. You should be able to see the same government records that the DMV, FBI and Medicare have on you. And you should be able to access this data for free at anytime.
#2 – You should be able to opt-opt.
You should have the right to opt-out, either wholly or partially, of being tracked. That means you should have the right to tell DoubleClick to never track you, or just not on sports sites in particular.
#3 – Your data should be owned by you and be portable anywhere.
You should be able to move or copy your data from one location to another location. Essentially, you should be able to export your data from Doubleclick and import it to a different system. When you join a new social network, you should be able to take your social graph from Facebook or LinkedIn with you and tear down these walled gardens.
While consumer advocates have been talking about these three rights for years, we’re closing in on making these rights a reality. With respect to item #1, consumers can now check their credit history for free once a year from each credit agency. For item #2, next generation data collectors (like Rapleaf) allow consumers to easily and selectively opt-out. And on item #3, most blog-readers have agreed to a common OPML standard for easily exporting and importing the blogs you read.
But more pressure needs to be exerted on the extreme violators of these three consumer rights and the forward-thinking data-collectors must differentiate themselves with consumers.