The last few years, we have seen data privacy issues becoming mainstream. In many cases, big tech companies have been found to have mishandled consumer data, or mining data without their consent. The case for data privacy is becoming even more relevant as we move into the age of AI. The argument is hot, and tech companies are already being put to centre stage.
Large tech companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon have found multiple critics yet it seems there is a race among both companies and nations to acquire data as it has been consistently touted as the new-age oil, and possibly more powerful than it. But, constant privacy and data breaches have made put to the forefront the importance of privacy, especially in the West.
Companies Hungry For Hyper-Personalisation At The Expense Of Privacy
There is a major aspect to data usage on the consumer side. Companies are hungry for hyper-personalisation, meaning to gain a competitive edge they want to know everything about a particular customer, his needs and behaviours on a given tech platform to make useful recommendations. According to Hemant Misra, Head of Applied Research, there needs to be a balance between hyper-personalisation for customer experience and ethical data usage.
“None of the consumer tech companies with user data, except for Google, does hyper-personalisation to the extent that we have complete 360 degree of any particular user. So, we are looking at the data and do clustering in order to understand who are the other people who are similar users, their choices and needs and build recommender systems for better customer experience. The problem is when data gets joined; when Facebook acquire WhatsApp, it gave the company analytics better view on analytics across the two platforms, user devices, their social status, the places they are visiting by tracking all that using WhatsApp and joining it with the Facebook social media platforms. So, the problem is that more hyperper-sonalisation, more data is being collected and that can lead to misuse. We saw what happened with Facebook- Cambridge Analytica scandal which exposed the misuse on the Facebook platform,” Misra explained while speaking at ThoughtWorks Live 2019.
The problem is that more hyper-personalisation, more data is being collected and that can lead to misuse. We saw what happened with Facebook- Cambridge Analytica scandal which exposed the misuse on the Facebook platform.Hemant Misra, Head of Applied Research, Swiggy
The question that lies is where it is all headed, and what is the end goal of the data being collected by the governments. Global AI technology race is another big aspect to it. According to Sudhir Tiwari, Managing Director of ThoughtWorks India, at a time when a Go champion retired because he can’t find a way to beat AI technology, it shows the power and dominance that data and AI is bringing on.
“There could also be data arms race among countries, where some countries are more aggressive on data collection and algorithms which can generate insights much better. More importantly, players can’t decipher the precise strategy used by AI to dominate the game so convincingly. The same can be said about AI’s role in global power and influence, and AI needs more and data at the expense of privacy. Unless there is a global consensus on data collection and usage, privacy and potential misuse of data will remain a challenge,” says Sudhir.
Why Data Privacy Will Be Valuable In Future
There is also a huge debate on who owns the data. While users of web services are generating petabytes of data, they may have no control over it. Users are also the victims of data misuse in the form of surveillance and social engineering which may be influencing every aspect of human life, experts say.
“As consumers lose trust because of data breaches, they will start looking for alternate products. The future will be different and data privacy will be valuable. We have seen in the last 5 years how big tech companies have refused to be responsible about how they handle personal data, and so they will face the consequence of losing consumer trust. At the same time, they might even go beyond and try to bank on surveillance capitalism in the coming years. But, I think the true next phase of data revolution can only happen with transparency and security standards of user data, with a focus on good tech,” spoke Govind Shivkumar, Principal, Beneficial Technology at Omidyar Network.
Jaspreet Bindra, Author of The Tech Whisperer and Digital Transformation Consultant says there is no free lunch. “On Internet, we are used to getting things for free. We forget that if something is free, then you are the product. Without reading the user terms and conditions, users unknowingly give consent to companies on how their data can be used, especially in geographies where data regulations are not present currently,” Bindra told.
On Internet, we are used to getting things for free. We forget that if something is free, then you are the product. Without reading the user terms and conditions, users unknowingly give consent to companies on how their data can be used.Jaspreet Bindra, Author & Digital Transformation Consultant
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.