Apr 28th 2017

It was Alexa, in the Library, with the FitBit

I jest, but the above is topical.

Recently, after an inevitable legal back and forth, a defendant in a murder case in Arkansas gave Amazon permission to hand over his Echo’s recordings to prosecutors. Equally, detectives have recently used FitBit data to dismiss an alibi and charge someone with murder.

The amount of data that is collected, and subsequently held by companies from us, is inordinate. At a time when policy such as the Snooper’s Charter is being enshrined into law, it shouldn’t be surprising that people are becoming far more interested in their own data privacy than before. This being said, people still gloss over the Terms and Conditions when they sign up for social media, upgrade the software on their iPhones, or indeed purchase an Echo or Echo Dot. So will this newfound urge to protect one’s data actually make any difference?

The fact is that our data has been used for marketing purposes for years, and it is only recent hacks and leaks of said data that has given people the impetus to be up in arms about it. You could argue that this outrage has brought in more staunch data protection guidelines and changes to laws. It is, however, a bit of a sword of Damocles – one is in a precarious position. Your data can be used against you, as it has done in the above examples. Most people probably don’t give this a second thought.

We hear quite often in the tech industry that data is the new currency, the price of doing business is having the right data at the right time, and that data is driving our newfound digital way of life. However it also seems to have left people uninspired. A recent survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), worryingly revealed that tech companies are the least trusted in handling and managing consumer data, with a mighty 6% of consumers handing over their trust. Banks and financial services companies, as you’d expect or rather hope, fare better – but not by a lot.

So what can be done? Informing the consumer, informing the enterprise customer if you provide a XaaS, informing people where their data will be held and how it will be used. “Inform” is the root word of information, and in our world driven by information we should be explicitly informed a lot more than we are. To paraphrase Aragorn: not idly to the cyber defences of companies fall. When they do however, people should know what data of theirs has been compromised and what the company is going to do about it. The responsibility is on the company, not the individual, to see that their data is secured, and this is often where there is some disparity in terms of perceived responsibility. How often do we hear “change your passwords”, “make your password have a reference to your star sign”, and “be sure to include your favourite Starbucks beverage in your password”? Ok maybe not the last one, but you catch my drift.

On that, let me end with a couple of questions: Will people start actively reading Terms and Conditions? Probably not, but it does now give a bit of food for thought. Will people care enough to not give companies any data? Probably not, but then again it’s nigh on impossible to not give data these days. Will I manage to paraphrase more Lord of the Rings characters in future blogs? I’ll give it a go.