Android users sue Google over personal data power-drain
Once you’ve ticked your data away to access a service (agreeing to never-read terms of service), your data is passed on from one App to another, from one service to another (depending on whatever business agreement in place), then collated and analysed to make sense of your overall behaviour and preferences.
In some cases when the data does not necessarily make sense, it may just be collected for no other purpose than to future-proof a company’s offering with applications yet to come. There seem to never be enough data, whether for commercial or for spying purposes.
Big data analytics is so much engrained in internet companies’ strategies that some would argue the web would not work or would offer a less rich user experience if all this data was not given away by the users. In fact, it is always the argument put forward, “give us your data, we’ll offer you a better service”.
So will you get a better service in exchange of all this data?
It is interesting to note that in a class action consolidated last year in San Francisco, Android users sued Google, claiming that the company had gained and allowed third parties to have unauthorized access to their mobile devices running on the Android operating system to collect personal data. Reportedly, the users said they were unaware of and did not knowingly consent to collection of the data, including home and workplace locations and current whereabouts.
Location tracking is an "opt-in" feature that users have to activate, Google defended but then the plaintiffs claimed that the company’s continuous records of location data exposed them to data overage charges and decreased battery life (somehow a poorer user experience). The final judgement has yet to come, but it is an interesting take on personal data.
The ongoing NSA scandal is somehow raising consumers’ awareness about privacy issues and what can be done with all the data they distribute freely with every web-connected and geolocated device.
Reclaiming control of personal data is not an easy task, but not sharing it so blindly is one step in the right direction.
In most cases, the data you generate could just run on the device you own and remain there for operation. Alternatively, one should be able to opt for an encrypted data vault where all personal data could be managed from a user’s perspective, creating virtual and administrative identities from a single access, then allowing different profiles to be seen by different web applications, as meta-data only (like some sort of RSS feed under their control). Personal data would not be so fragmented and would become more portable.
Only a cultural change will push consumers to reclaim personal data control, or this may be through monetizing opportunities. If you could get a share of the internet pie rather than just getting adverts served to you, then you may want to sell your data rather than give it away for free.
Several internet startups have emerged that precisely claim to put users back in control of their private information, offering money to compensate users for the data they give away. The marketing pitch from companies like Yes Profile, Datacoup or handshake is that since your personal data is so valuable and often sold in your back, you may as well earn your share of it and decide what level of information you’ll sell away and to whom.
So these companies offer you to create an account where you share your personal data in more detail than you would accidentally give away over the web. In return, they’ll pay you some money for being able to sell your data to selected advertisers and companies.
These approaches don‘t really put you in control of your personal data, they are merely one way to monetize more of it through specific channels, echoing the 2003 music title “We want your soul” from breakbeat DJ/producer Adam Freeland.
Selling genuine data from the source (user-certified) does not prevent data harvesting at all connection stages, though if this trend was to go global, it may just become more economical and practical for advertisers to access consumer data through these user-certified channels than to acquire it through data mining and recouping across many third-party services. Then again, once your private data has been sold, you loose sight of it and won’t know how it will be used and re-used.
This really falls short of being a user-centric data management solution, as the European project TAS3 -Trusted Architecture for Securely Shared Services, aimed to provide a few years ago, together with a legal framework.
Maybe to reclaim personal data, one must start from scratch, tediously addressing queries to “data removal sites” such as www.StopSelling.me or www.justdelete.me which offer links to delete your accounts from various companies (some being rated as impossible to remove from).