Thursday, 10 January 2013

Protecting individual privacy in the big data era

With the explosion of e-commerce and social media, online privacy has become a hot topic in today’s media and legislative agenda. As technology, consumer attitudes and legal requirements change, many questions are raised.

What’s the right balance between better online services and protection of privacy? Are people aware of how personal information they are giving away? How much private information are people willing to trade off for something of value such as a free service? A recent event co-hosted by the University of Sydney Master of Marketing and the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) addressed these and many other questions around data privacy, marketing, research and the consumer.

The ethics and regulatory lectures at the Master of Marketing had opened my eyes to issues concerning data privacy, and it was fascinating to see first hand how Australian leaders are tackling these challenges. The Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Timothy Pilgrim, addressed the audience with an up-to-the-minute overview of the data privacy state of affairs. Below I will do my best to fill you in some of the very interesting points he has touched on.

When considering much of the personal data available online is uploaded by individuals themselves via social media and how readily they trade their personal information in return for convenience or the use of a service, it’s not surprising for some people to question if privacy matters or whether it can even exist?

As pointed out by Timothy, the issue is that it’s one thing to share your personal data on social media with friends and followers but it’s likely, if you haven’t actively adjusted your privacy settings, you may be publicly sharing more than realised and intended. In addition, he emphasised the issue of Internet tracking and profiling creating accurate profiles of users. The more access businesses have to this information, the better they can target consumers with advertisements that match our areas of interest.

This was supported by last year’s World Economic Forum, which described personal information as the new asset class, the new oil, also referred to as big data. He reminded us that aggregation of personal data from search engine history, email content and other personal transaction such as apps downloads often occurs without the user’s understanding it’s happening. And at the very foundation of big data is the fact that it’s personal information and concerns to our right to privacy.

Acceptance of unread terms and conditions with the click of a button takes the relationship between company and the customer in terms of profiling and marketing to a whole new level. People are at the risk of losing control if they are unaware of how their data is being used.

Having in mind personal data is fast becoming the new currency in the digital space, and people are more and more concerned about how it’s being used, do you think companies that have transparent privacy practices will have a competitive edge over others? Do you read privacy terms and proactively adjust the settings of the social networks you use?

Adriana Heinzen
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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