Trend Of The Week: Privacy Matters

Many of us can probably remember making our very first social media account years ago. Back then, most of us wouldn’t have given much thought to handing over our personal details to a tech company — phone number, relationship status, star sign. Whatever they asked for, chances are we gave it to them. These were simpler times. We were too excited to be venturing out into uncharted waters, experiencing new platforms and technologies. We couldn’t foresee all the things we would come to be sceptical of. Nowadays, we are much more aware of the extent we are being digitally surveyed. We know that our smartphones track our location. Facial recognition technology has gotten so eerily good that it threatens to end public anonymity. We’ve reached a point where a coalition of powerful data brokers, like Facebook and Google, have amassed more information on us than any government could ever collect. The more this becomes ingrained in our way of life, the harder it becomes to stop it. And with business strategy, government interests, and the myriad of immediate benefits we gain as consumers all muddled together in one ethical quandary, not everyone is in agreement of whether we should. Over the last few years, these questions have been escalating towards a tipping point.

This week, news broke of yet another Facebook data breach. The information of 533 million Facebook users, including email addresses and phone numbers, is currently circulating among hackers online. If you want to check if your information has been compromised, experts are recommending this tool. Of course, this is far from the first time Facebook has been in the headlines for mishandling user data. This isn’t even the first time this year. If you think back a few months, you might remember the controversy with Whatsapp’s new privacy policy in January, which created a frenzied mass exodus. A timely tweet from Elon Musk, directed millions of people to a competitor encrypted messaging app, Signal. As we’ve grown expectant of court appearances and scandal after scandal, consumer trust of Facebook has plummeted. A survey last year found that nearly a third of US Facebook users lacked confidence in the platform’s ability to protect their data and privacy. Among the tech giants, approaches to consumer privacy is beginning to diverge. Apple is threatening to shake up the status quo with its proposed IOS 14 update, which would give users more control on which apps have permission to track them for advertising purposes. A simple switch would turn it off. This is part of a larger strategy to become leaders in consumer privacy, heralding the January 28th as an awareness day for Data Privacy and sharing educational resources such as ‘A Day in the Life of Your Data.’ Facebook retaliated by slamming Apple in several full page ads claiming to stand up for small business interests and the ‘internet as we know it.’ Many were quick to poke holes in their claims.

As the public continues to witness such clashes, the greater the general concern about privacy becomes. Since GDPR has come into effect in Europe, we are now presented with a barrage of things to consent to every time we open a webpage. These daily reminders have moved privacy matters out of the shadows and into mainstream consciousness. We have been reminded to be especially vigilant for online scams as reports of fraud have ballooned over the pandemic. ‘Disposable’ virtual cards from digital banks such as Revolut have become increasingly popular options for conscientious online shoppers. There has also been global concern about the privacy implications from COVID tracking technologies, especially in Asia, and concerns about identity theft and falsified vaccination records as more people begin to be vaccinated and post photos on social media. Preliminary data from an Irish survey found that, while there has been huge increase in the number of Irish people willing to share personal data in the interest of public health, 30% of the respondents feared that the government COVID-19 tracking app would be used as ‘a surveillance tool’ beyond the scope of the pandemic.

Now that this mind-set to privacy has taken hold, there is no going back. This will continue to have widespread implications for brands. As more businesses, such as Apple, bring these ethical questions to light, brands will soon be expected to pick a side of the aisle. As regulations amp up, targeting strategies will need long term revaluation. Most importantly, as consumers come to understand the value of their personal data, they will be expecting brands to make sharing their data worth their while. How will you convince them to trust you?