In March 2018, the news broke that Cambridge Analytica has used the personal data of millions of Facebook users for political purposes. The scandal demonstrated just how little we think about what happens with our data.
Internet giants, such as Google and Facebook, control the web and spend their time telling us how ‘attractive’ their business model is, enabling us to use their services ‘free of charge’. But if we were to read the small print of their data policies, we’d soon realize that we actually pay them plenty – not with money, but with our personal data.
And these online businesses are not the only ones who collect information about their customers ¬– virtually all companies do it. After all, have you ever thought about how you receive personalized advertising leaflets in your letterbox featuring precisely those products that you buy frequently? We don’t really think about it, but in fact, supermarkets also track and analyse what you buy – and then send you personalized advertising based on your profile.
But awareness is growing among consumers and by 2035 we will have regained control over our personal data. In practical terms, this means that we will be able to choose where we want to store our data, independently from the applications that we use. In the future, we’ll keep our precious personal data in ‘datapods’ that we will manage and control ourselves. In an ideal world, everyone will have multiple datapods, so that we can have separate pods for personal data, work-related data, official documents and so on.
And the fact that consumers will control their own data needn’t be a problem for companies – in fact it could even be an advantage, because this it will allow them to obtain access to data about their competitors. An example: imagine that you give supermarket X permission to access all of your shopping data from every supermarket you visit. You’ll do this in exchange for attractive personal discounts. So, if supermarket X then realizes that you always buy yoghurt from a competitor, it can offer you a discount on its own products, or else make changes to the range.
Meanwhile, there is certainly a trend underway toward gaining more power over our own data and having more privacy. For instance, in 2018 the European Union gave a strong message with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), new legislation whose main purpose is to give individuals control back over their personal information.
Which means that companies will have to start thinking differently about data. Just like oil – and data is the new oil – data will not only have to be stored properly, but will become a real commodity for driving us forward.