I’ve recently asked hundreds of people whether they knowingly allow their smart phones to be tracked and mined for data on their movements, and only two have so far said yes. Even a recent meeting of 25 data scientists from the UK Geospatial Institute found only one person who knew about this. This small finding highlights how unaware most people are that their location privacy is being intruded upon by big tech companies every moment of every day.
Modern companies are switched on to the power of location data to provide insight about consumer behaviour. This power is creepy once you consider how this data is being collated and shared without people’s informed consent.
Take the way in which most social platforms collect data on every update, text, time and even the location-stamp of private messages. The notion that consumers have control over their privacy through vague and complex settings is illusory. You can’t really ‘opt out’ in this case unless you stop using the service.
It is claimed by these companies that location-based data will not be used to reveal a person’s identity. But even when anonymised, research has found that it is remarkably easy to identify people’s movement history based on their time at a few locations.
When you consider the rise in high profile hacking incidents involving massive data breaches, the risk to personal privacy becomes deeply alarming.
This is no way for business and the internet to operate. People who value privacy, trust and influence over how information about them is being used are pushing back against this trend.
New laws will soon come into effect that strengthen citizens’ privacy rights and open up opportunities for agile organisations who are prepared to take privacy seriously.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is expected to be ratified this spring, giving companies a couple of years to get their data houses in order or face huge fines. These new rules will enable every citizen to demand that companies delete all their personal data, including metadata about how and where a service is being accessed and used.
The new rules will bring the murky process of location data collection out into the open. It hits back against big tech companies’ tendency to ‘track by default’, without the fully informed consent of their customers.
This opens up opportunities for the growing and committed band of privacy innovators who want an Internet built on trust, where information is knowingly shared for a specific purpose.
This has been the main motivation for setting up the Krowd, which aims to create an online network that connects people by location without gathering any data about where they are, what they’re doing or how they’re communicating in that space. We want to redefine the nature of the social network to become more of a personal network and create a new application which has the benefits of connectivity and building relationships and is based on trust and transparency. This puts users firmly in control of what gets shared with whom.
This approach is growing in popularity; thousands of people have joined the app my firm's built, The Krowd, in its pre-release stage and the application has been used at public events like Wi-Fi Now and several business shows. It also has the benefit of being less attractive to hackers due to its data minimization policy, and therefore less of a target for the breaches that have confounded organisations like TalkTalk and Ashley Maddison. We understand the real cost of a data breach accrues to the user not the company.
It’s now up to us to seize the moment and build products that are useful and live up to the promise of putting citizens in control of their online lives.
The author is founder of a company called Krowdthink and inventor of an application called The Krowd
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