Control of Personal Data
New fields often develop in stages. A few years ago, cryptocurrency made its grand entrance, tokens proliferated, and speculation ran high in an unregulated wild-west. As the industry continues in its growth, regulators are beginning to step in and many see the need for order.
A similar phenomenon happened in social media. For years, users shared data with social media companies without a real awareness of what those companies were doing with their data. Much ink has been spilled about how the price we pay for the convenience of social media is our very privacy.
As data has grown to be one of the most valuable commodities of our era, its unbridled collection and use by social media companies has begun to attract public scrutiny. We are just beginning to understand the importance of giving people control of their own data.
The growing awareness of the importance of control of personal data has reached the point that even big social media companies are beginning to respond.
Example: Control Over Personal Data on Facebook
For example, Facebook is tentatively rolling out an “Off-Facebook Activity” feature, which it claims will give users better control over some of their data which Facebook controls. In particular, the feature refers to data shared with Facebook by other companies which Facebook can use to identify its own users.
To illustrate, imagine a shoe company sends Facebook information that someone browsed its website from a particular device. Facebook then scans its databases and identifies that the individual attached to that device is one of its users. It can then send more shoe-related ads to that user.
The “Off-Facebook Activity” feature is supposed to allow users to see which companies have sent identifying data about them to Facebook which Facebook has subsequently linked to their account. It further enables users to disconnect the data from their personal account.
As a result, Facebook will no longer use the “shoe-store—user” connection to tailor ads towards the user, but will rely on more generic ads.
Regardless of how meaningful a nod it is to consumer privacy and control of data, Facebook’s new product certainly reflects the zeitgeist of the times: Users’ control of their own personal data is important.