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Creating a ethical data future

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We need an entirely new model, where one’s privacy is inherent and not an afterthought.

When it comes to the ethical or responsible handling of consumer data, companies — especially Big Tech — have been failing. Look no further than the myriad of class action lawsuits brought against them in the past several years for misusing consumer data. These negligent actions are eroding consumer trust at all levels.

And to rebuild this trust, we need to evolve. Not just that, we need to evolve how we view our data, and gain a deeper understanding around how it’s used — with technology at the heart of it.

Privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and CPRA are a step in the right direction. They’re enabling consumers to have more control over their data, and holding companies accountable by levying penalties for noncompliance. But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

What we need is an entirely new model, where one’s privacy is inherent and not an afterthought. A solution that takes actual people and the communities they live in into account.

Our world is slowly but surely being powered by data-deduplication algorithms that hold the power to decide our futures, and at the heart of this data protection debate are actual human beings that often get confused with “data points.”

community-driven framework is needed, one that puts individuals in the driver’s seat — empowering them to control or initiate the sharing, monetization, or use of their personal data with companies or organizations. It’s a community-centric and individual-first framework versus how we’ve been operating for decades allowing companies to hold the power. And it’s the future of where the world is headed.

For far too long, companies have used passive data collection methods like scraping or cookie tracking without the user’s knowledge. Isn’t it time this stopped?

When tech goes bad

As you can imagine, big tech has been some of the worst offenders when it comes to the collection, handling, and sharing of consumer data.

For instance, Vigilant Solutions, a license-plate reading technology company owned by Motorola Solutions, received major heat for passively conducting automated license plate checks and sharing that information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other law enforcement authorities.

In the world of advertising, LiveRamp collects personal information like home values, credit card transactions, and health history from hundreds of millions of people to power a large swath of the advertising ecosystem under the guise of personalizing consumer experiences.

And lastly, no one will ever forget the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Scandal, where Cambridge Analytica used more than 50 million Facebook users’ data improperly to build voter profiles and influence their voting behavior in the 2016 presidential campaign. This was unprecedented at the time, but the use of our data has become a goldmine for political advertising on technology platforms.

While consumers might like more personalized experiences, they’re often not privy to how their data is being used to track and market to them. As a result, many companies are opting to bring programmatic buying in-house where they have more control rather than working with ethical first party data.

A step in the right direction

It’s not that all of big tech is bad. In fact, some are abandoning insidious practices and driving considerable change in consumer data privacy that will have lasting effects. Yet, some critics, including myself, wonder just how much these moves are really about putting individuals first.

That being said, companies like Mozilla and Apple have been lauded by consumer privacy advocates for deprecating third-party tracking cookies in their browsers. Now that Google plans to do the same in Chrome, the third-party tracking cookie will be totally obliterated.

While it’s great news for consumers, it could mean trouble for the ad ecosystem that will have to find ethical methods for dealing with consumer data. Currently, Google’s alternative would have their browser responsible for managing all of the data across the ecosystem. Similarly, Apple is making updates to how consumers opt-in to being tracked on iPhones and iPads.

Building a more ethical data future

Beyond privacy regulations, we need technology with a conscience to drive real change.

I’m most passionate about two tools I think embodies this and will be pivotal in transforming the relationships between individuals and their user data.

Individual data license

The idea of a data license isn’t new. It’s common practice and legalese when dealing with large sets of data on business to business technology platforms. However, there’s a way to transform this tool to be more consumer friendly, and give individuals peace of mind that they have ownership over their data. It’s a sort of “Terms of Service” for consumers on how their data might be used. And it’s an agreement we proactively put in place at my company Streamlytics.

Companies in the big tech realm are also putting individual data licenses to work. Trove, an app from Microsoft, pays individuals for contributing their photos to AI projects that help developers train machine learning models. Similar to Streamlytics, data contributors who are participating sign a data license that says the data they contribute is theirs, not the platform they are adding it to.

A universal data standard

A universal data standard is the second tool I believe will be transformational for individuals and organizations as our society continues to accelerate in the production, consumption, and processing of data.

As consumers begin to have more and more access to their data through changing privacy regulations, the need for a single data format unifying their data allows them to provide access to pieces of that data — and holistically provides ownership over it.

Further, as technologies like quantum computing evolve, the capacity for data transmission increases significantly and a uniform standard on how individual data is organized will become more important. It’s one of the reasons why the Universal Data Interchange Format is foundational to the work that we are doing at Streamlytics.

Whether discussing policy, regulation or technological advancements when it comes to privacy, one thing is for certain: The future is bright. But, only if we ensure that individuals and communities are at the center of it.

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