As the world continues to self-isolate and deal with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, this global event has become a crossroads moment for the data privacy movement.
Thus far, the outbreak has exposed the difficult balance between using ‘data for good’, to help monitor the spread of COVID, and the fear of the potential of using ‘data for bad’ where the government and others acquire the taste for surveillance and continue to monitor consumers once we flatten the curve.
We are in unprecedented times, which means that governments are calling on desperate measures in order to help keep people safe. Right now, many countries have started to consider using technology and location-based data tracking tools to keep up with their citizens in an effort to help prevent the spread of the disease.
This is where things get political.
The concept of digital contact tracing, which uses either Bluetooth (BLE) and/or location data to track people who have come in contact with the virus, has come to the forefront as a method for helping trace cases of COVID-19.
But there is a problem – Google and Apple won’t let you use location data and are instead promoting the use of a Bluetooth (BLE) system developed by them. Why?
When iOS cut its location data in half, Apple maintained it was due to privacy concerns, but for years these tech giants have allowed the collection of ample data from companies that did not have the same mission as the government in tracking a pandemic.
Is this because Apple and Google are adamant about not letting their data get into the hands of the government? Are Apple and Google putting their needs ahead of consumers?
Is BLE better at tracking the disease than location data? There is more going on beneath the surface, and privacy and data control are what’s really driving this.
Thankfully, some U.S. lawmakers appear to have a solid understanding of the broader stakes involved here.
Officials are now attempting to take appropriate measures to prohibit the misuse of user data, requiring tech companies to delete sensitive data once the health crisis has passed, and meet required security standards that prevent data from being used for other commercial advertising, marketing or political purposes.
A recent Axios poll has proven to be a key indicator of the mistrust that the American public has in how businesses manage their personal data.
The study showed 66% of respondents saying they would be not at all, or not be very likely, to use a contact tracing system made by major tech companies, but would instill their trust in a system provided by the Center For Disease Control.
Ranking even lower than tech companies – the government – with 68% saying not at all, or very likely no to this as an option – yet the majority of COVID tracking applications that are hitting the market are, government applications.
While safety should be of utmost concern right now, consumers need to be vigilant and not let lawmakers override progress made on their data privacy rights.
The reality in 2020 is that consumers have become much more aware of their rights, how much value their data has, and the critical need to establish privacy and control on a global scale.
Many forward-thinking governments are starting to rethink data privacy and getting tougher on tech companies who have a strong grip on user data.
In January, California introduced the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a landmark bill aimed at cracking down on Big Tech and restoring data privacy rights and consumer protection.
Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom introduced legislation designed to provide people with a ‘data dividend,’ which would effectively put a financial value on people’s personal information.
And Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, has called for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which ladders up to the notion of leveling the playing field between consumers and corporations.
Unfortunately for both Newsom and Yang, their statements, while inspiring, lack a plan of action. How exactly are UBI and the data dividend being distributed? They are not.
In a market where the US employment rate has risen to 15 percent, now more than ever people need help, and the concept of compensating people for their participation in a data exchange is increasingly becoming a reality.
The multi-billion dollar global data market has zero consumer inclusion yet it continues to generate billions of dollars for corporations each and every year.
Considering that all data is a manifestation of a consumer’s identity, there’s a growing need for a mechanism that allows consumers to see who is using their data, consent to its use, and receive some fair compensation.
If this framework was in place the debacle around COVID tracing would be moot as the infrastructure to roll this out would already be established.
Skeptics often default back to their selfish agenda of ‘how much money can I make’ or ‘there isn’t enough money in it for me’ but they are missing the point, and this is where the current situation ironically can help.
Yes it’s true that for many a few dollars a month is maybe not worth it to ‘them,’ but a few dollars a month multiplied by 350 million Americans does.
Instead of the politics and skepticism that is driving tracing applications now, a system where millions of Americans can venture into a system immediately to help monitor COVID without having to onboard a new product hastily created by the government would allow us to collectively jump the cue and get us to a solution.
Having total control over data is a fallacy; consumers can’t own all of the data, but consumers should have the tools and the option of participating and transparency.
Every tech company including Facebook, Amazon and Google, uses consumer data But with the average user’s data worth approximately $500 per month, consumers aren’t involved in any part of that transaction.
Facebook, for example, had net revenue of over $70 billion last year and monthly value of $35 per month on each North American consumer.
Why is this relevant? The point is that the data is available to get to the source of COVID tracing but what’s preventing us from getting to a solution is greed and politics.
Apple and Google won’t give data on consumers to sovereign governments about a global pandemic, but yet Google will give this same data to anybody that wants to advertise? Something’s wrong with this picture.
More than ever, consumers are demanding full transparency when it comes to the entire value chain and should be entitled to see exactly which businesses are buying their data, and what exactly they’re doing with it.
Giving the user increased control would also solve all of the macro problems that are rampant in the data market such as fraud, the fidelity of data, privacy and consent.
The future of data is consumer inclusion, and now we’re seeing governments starting to put the right measures in place to allow them to take back control of their digital identity.
While the public health crisis has raised many questions about how governments and businesses can and should be collecting personal data, the people have already spoken and there is no turning back on their hard-earned privacy rights.
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