We have all heard the phrase – Data is the new gold. Even though it is a very catchy and memorable statement; few stop and explore how deep the parallels between the two resources go. Both resources start life in raw form. Both yield the best value if extracted efficiently. Both are highly sought after in raw form by legitimate and not-so-legitimate miners. And both have a dark side that goes unnoticed most of the time, but ever so often is cast in the limelight.
For gold, the dark underbelly is Conflict Gold. In eastern Congo, for example, armed rebel groups use violence to control the gold mines and supply chains, which in turn funds their illegal and brutal war efforts. The average person is unaffected by these events and usually only pay attention to it when it is brought into the public eye. Because of the lack of education and awareness of the issues, some people even contribute to the problem by knowingly and unknowingly buying conflict gold and other resources in the search for a good deal.
The comparison between these two resources and their conflicts might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it does highlight our responsibility in creating the problem and what we need to do to correct it.
To be clear, the data collected by these companies isn’t as malicious as some would lead you to believe. In most cases, they want our data to make the best strategic decisions and effectively serve and appeal to the market. Big tech companies like Google and Facebook want to better target and sell their online advertising services. Let us not forget these companies exist and provide their valuable services for free because of this ad service revenue.
The main issues that we face regarding data privacy are what data is being collected and what is being done with that data. Companies are usually open and transparent about the data they collect in their privacy policies. For example, people stopped using Whatsapp because they didn’t like the amount of information they are allowed to collect and shared, which was communicated in their most recent policy update. As to what is being done with the data, that is much more of a grey area.
Most companies can tell a lot from very little data because of the way they extract and correlate the information. These algorithms are usually protected intellectual property that gives the companies an edge, and as such will likely never become public knowledge. Unfortunately, these big tech companies have become cornerstones of the modern marketplace and our daily lives, so our choices are either to agree to their terms or stop using their services. There are, of course, companies and entities that want your personal information to use with malicious intent. Even though this does speak to data privacy issues, these are more related to using the internet in a safe and informed way.
Luckily, just as with conflict gold, the world is taking steps to address the problems we face with data privacy. Policies like GDPR in Europe and POPIA in South Africa; are creating mechanisms that protect the owners of data and allows them to take back control of their online information. These policies warrant discussions on their own, but the bottom line is that they are there to protect the users and consumers of the data by providing regulations and recourse for informed data share and recourse for breach thereof.
It is unlikely that your data will ever become a less valuable commodity, so the protection of our data privacy is our responsibility. There are many well documented and publicly available resources to help us become more responsible in how we share or don’t share our data, but here are a few to get you started:
Understanding cookies and using them to your advantage - https://www.cookielaw.org/the-cookie-law
Common internet scams and how to avoid them- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBNG0osIBAprVcZZ3ic84vw