Data. There’s a vast issue over who owns your data and what they’re doing with it, but we don’t understand what data is being collected and how it’s being used. Although companies like Meta misuse our data, others do not and use it to ensure you see relevant ads.
When I worked in healthcare, we collected data on people that visited our websites. Before you panic, our data did not contain name, address, or personal information. All the data we collected was not private. We knew, for example, that someone from the Northwest viewed our site and what pages they looked at. It helped us determine if our marketing was effective.
Pew Research Center studied consumer beliefs about online data collection. They reported that 81 % of the public say that “the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits.” 79 % say they are “concerned about how companies use their data.” 79 % of Americans say “they are not too or not at all confident that companies will admit mistakes and take
A report by Reveal and The Markup found that “Facebook is collecting ultra-sensitive personal data about abortion seekers and enabling antiabortion organizations to use that data as a tool to target and influence people online. Unfortunately, Meta continues to exploit our data, and recently, a Meta engineer admitted he has no idea where their data is kept. Meta continues to give the industry a big black eye.
The truth is that most sites need ad revenue to offer free content. The costs of maintaining and running a media site are increasing every year. Publishers have two choices; charge for content or use ad revenue to pay for their content.
What about the Pew study results above? They don’t address what data is collected and how it’s used. We found, for example, that online users were upset when we told them, in focus groups, that we collected data until we showed them what kind of data we contained.
The hard reality is that there is little to no regulation on what data websites collect and how it’s used. Oh, there are usually disclosures that are long, hard to understand, and full of legal double talk, but 99% of people don’t read them.
We really need a simple way to communicate to users what data is being collected and how it’s used. A simple letter like “A” in a big circle might indicate that the website is collecting a lot of personal data and listing how it’s used, while a “D” might suggest that data is not being collected.
Research has also shown us that we are at least relevant as long as we’re served ads online. A shopper searching for a raincoat should not see an ad for a Ford F150.
Data collection could be easily simplified and regulated, but there’s too much money at stake. Lobbyists flood Congress whenever Internet privacy arises, and it will continue until more people speak up.