Customization vs. Exploitation

GDPR takes effect today. Although it’s Europe’s new privacy law, its impact is reverberating worldwide. I’ve already received dozens of updated privacy policies and read countless news articles in the context of change within the Internet sector and beyond, including finance, health and travel.

GDPR is based on two primary principals:

  1. Companies need consent to collect an individual’s data
  2. Individuals should be required to share only the data necessary to make those services requesting access to data to work

The Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light how our data can be collected and exploited for the worse. Yet for many of these applications to work, they need access to data we may feel uncomfortable providing, such as our contacts. Facebook Messenger is a good example. In order to connect and to put us in touch with our contacts, the application needs access. I’m grateful to have been connected and keep in touch with friends I’ve lost touch with via Facebook and I enjoy using free platforms such as Google, OpenTable and Yelp. Yet today, I feel a sense of responsibility to read through the legalese and think through the various applications of their business models before catching up on friends, getting directions or even finding a new restaurant.

Will others feel similarly obligated? I suspect the majority will not, but they should. Early in my career, I sold internet advertising. Perhaps I’m more positive in believing that advertising relevant to me can actually be useful but I also understand the need to share some data in exchange for the opportunity to use free services and get the most out of them. I know I am the product and nothing is entirely free. Rather than close our accounts, GDPR offers us the opportunity to better understand this exchange, the value of privacy and perhaps even get more out of the time we spend on these platforms. Today, we have the opportunity to turn exploitation into customization. If we aren’t careful stewards of our data, the consequences can be severe—impacting our elections, leaders, laws and ultimately our freedom. I’m making a pact today to myself and my readers to protect my privacy, to call out abusers and to share what I learn–good and bad–with my social media friends and followers. I hope you will too.

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