THE BLOG

Data Privacy - Boom or Bust?

12/12/2014 12:36 GMT | Updated 11/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It is fortunate for all of us that we don't see all the news all of the time, or become aware of all the futuristic ways companies are planning to engage with us. I recently read the book The Circle by Dave Eggers which paints a worrying picture of the future based around the over dominance of one 'social media' company. It shows a future where privacy is effectively eroded to the point of extinction and in fact keeping something hidden is a the more negative state. We will all be carrying cameras on us streaming our every word and move as well as cameras everywhere filming from the outside. It shows a world where all the shops, e-commerce, tastes, likes are scraped and analysed.

Technology powers all of this and we have always feared the machines taking over and yet we can not resist the temptation to dive in deeper and deeper. Occasionally the papers will pick up on a hot topic like user data being hacked or pictures being leaked etc but often the technical developments of the world are not laid out for all to see and assess. Inch by inch new techniques are introduced to allow companies to target people. To this day the vast majority of the population does not even understand retargeting or behavioural targeting, the most basic form of ad targeting. Don't even get started on Telcos individually identifying everyone or Facebook synching their data with that of your banks or the fact we know you are on your mobile and then tablet. No, mostly it is unknown to the world and that is the part that we feel in the 'acceptable' camp.

As someone who works in a part of the business that likes all these new techniques where you see just that bit more. But in one short browsing session I found two links in the space of half an hour. The first from the BBC about facial recognition in stores and the second from the Guardian about using tech to help people avoid queues. In both cases the technology is creating a world where reality is starting to blur with science fiction and an existence that leaves our lives totally exposed to the companies we interact.

The first case is a company called Facefirst, in partnership with NEC which is proposing that stores recognise you as you enter the store, fine in principle except there was a question mark on where they get the photos. On Facebook came the answer worryingly, those who are fans of that companies site, in particular. It is this element of the relationship that creates most doubt I believe. How many times do you forget to tick the annoying box that asks you to tick to not be contacted and suddenly you are receiving random emails and calls. Well imagine if those requests included access to photos and other private information. The next thing you know you will enter a shop and have a latte thrust at you and some random assistant say 'your hair looks nice like that.'

Throw in all the data your house will be providing, your car, all that we need now is to join it up. Google, Facebook and others are in that perfect place to join the data and provide the identification. I am a massive fan of technology and progression, and I just highlighted a couple of examples but there are so many more and some very sensitive ones to do with health data and the like that people do not realise is being built out. Inch by inch we are having privacy eroded and none of us are seeing to what extent and it feels to me that we are rapidly approaching a fork in the road that could mean boom or bust for privacy and data related businesses.

I am not advocating that we stop progression, I just believe that businesses whether advertisers or agencies or all the tech in the middle, we must take a responsibility for this data and we all have a responsibility to act with propriety in everything we do. That includes much more clarity on what and how we collect data as much as what we do with it.

There was a point in The Circle that there was a chance to turn back, it was not taken..