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In today’s society, it’s common to label in very rigid terms. Things are good or bad, black or white, mandatory or never. We continue to move away from a middle ground where events, people or ideas can be seen as gray, evolving or simply a product of their own creation. We are getting lost in the message instead of progressing in action.
Big tech is no exception. How often do you hear or read that big tech is bad? Increasingly, this message is being distributed by the media, by government spokespersons, and across a wide range of sectors. And it’s true that the privacy issues we face today were born out of the processes and approaches developed by dominant tech companies like Google, Amazon, Meta, and Apple.
These companies with their innovative approaches opened up a universe of sharing and tracking in the name of progress. They found a way to leverage data to grow their business, while creating a society of no-questions-asked data sharers. They helped consumers get comfortable with sharing, without helping us protect ourselves.
This is bad? No. It’s wrong? Yes, especially as research continues to prove that having access to everything about us doesn’t improve the business or customer experience.
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Putting data back in people’s hands
Now that many of us know the system is broken, it’s time to change the good-or-evil narrative to one of defense and action. We need to identify what can be done and who is best suited to do it so we can begin to create the change we so desperately need.
Here’s why: the people who created the problem won’t be the ones who solve it. Big tech — as the biggest contributor of consumer data — has become dependent on a business model where consumers pay for nothing and are harvested for all their data.
Users essentially become the product, driving consumer insights and impacting business decisions. Because of this deep level of integration, these actors have neither the incentive nor the ability to solve the problem they created and benefited from.
Today, it’s up to consumers and emerging businesses to move away from reliance on personal data collection and put control of data back where it belongs – with the people.
Consumers rise up and demand control
Maybe, like me, you’re starting to see changes in the choices you have when sharing your information. From all-or-nothing cookie requests to companies removing guests’ shopping experiences, we’re being driven to forced choices everywhere. Have you shown up to an empty restaurant lately only to be asked for your phone number before they seat you? Is happening.
Simply sharing your details and letting the consequences be what they may may seem like the easiest way forward. But it is opening us up to unsolicited communications, potential data breaches and, most importantly, undue influence.
We need to educate ourselves on the steps we can take to take control of big tech and start owning our identities again. It’s time to take a stand – with our wallets, our actions and our words – and reimagine how business is done.
We no longer know what a world is like without the interference of big technologies. We’ve become so used to distributing our data in daily microtransactions that we’ve become desensitized to it. Becoming aware of when our data is being collected, why it is being collected and how it may or will be used in the future is an essential first step.
Next, we must take steps to limit our data at the point of collection. Whether that means changing your cookie settings, using VPNs and apps to mask your information, or taking steps to retroactively remove data, it’s worth the effort. This prevents big tech and others from accessing our information in the first place.
Emerging companies lead with privacy
If consumers start to take a stand and industries back these actions with innovation, change is possible. It simply cannot be done alone or in a vacuum. We need to bring together the next generation of startups to tackle the problem with a consumer-first mindset. One that understands the importance of centralized systems built around privacy — versus privacy as an add-on.
From the outset of a business, leaders need to determine how much customer data is really needed and examine alternatives for collecting, storing and using personally identifiable information (PII). In the process, they can develop products and website experiences that make it easy for consumers to retain their personal information. Add regular privacy and security audits to processes, ensuring third-party vendors share privacy commitments.
People and emerging companies can work together
Gone are the days of profiting from bulk data collection without consumer consent. Now, companies must uphold a higher standard of consumer privacy, and consumers must hold companies accountable.
We have an opportunity to redefine our relationship. We have the opportunity to build a world where trust is inherent and our interactions are reshaped with consumer welfare first, where we care for each other by being smarter – consumers, marketers, entrepreneurs, leaders.
The dynamic must be one of partnership founded on respect and consent. Big tech is not bad for wanting to use consumer data to further its goals. However, it’s old-fashioned and disconnected and will need to prioritize people over profit to continue to be relevant as consumers find their voice and emerging brands address the need for privacy.
Arjun Bhatnagar is CEO of Cloaked.
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