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Privacy or Power? Data, power and our new digital reality


04 Aug, 2022

The nature of our digital rights as citizens is evolving rapidly – faster than ever before. Whilst nations and their governments do their best to keep up with changing times it is difficult to truly understand the extent to which our data is being used and shaping daily life. We often don’t associate our data with being a ‘product’ for companies. But if many of us were to go into business, we would never be so quick to share our products and services for free. Is it as simple as us just not giving our data the same consideration or is there something more to our reasoning?

The first step in educating ourselves on our digital rights is acknowledging that our data is not separate from us – rather it is an extension of our presence, just online. When a person goes to open up a Twitter account, they are creating both an online identity and entering into a commercial relationship with the company. However, the identity we think of isn’t necessarily just @joebloggs123 but rather the data stored about who Joe Bloggs is – the things they like or don’t like, patterns of behaviour, locations, feelings. To us, identity tells us who we are but to companies it also enables them to understand who we may become. Twitter can ‘better’ align people with their everyday interests and even guide the behaviour of entire populations. Of course, great power comes with great risk – a conversation for another day – but first we must acknowledge the power before being able to understand the risk and the potential.

In a recent study, 82% of consumers across global markets, believed that companies are using their data at least ‘most of the time’ with a majority also expressing concerns about how their data is being used. Although we are more conscious of the power of our data there has not been a decline in global connectivity, the forming of new commercial relationships or the joining of social networks – in fact trends have shown the complete opposite. The average number of connected devices in households has increased by 100% in the past five years, TikTok boasts over 1 billion active monthly users and accelerated by Covid-19, individuals have signed-up for 15 new online accounts (on average).

Connectivity has defined the global economy and this is reflected by increasing demand for investment into better connecting communities, economies and countries. The global demand for infrastructure by 2030 is estimated by McKinsey Global Institute and OECD to be in need of total investment exceeding $4.7 trillion per year with middle-income countries accounting for approximately 25% of this demand.

Acknowledgement of digital rights, now widely recognised around the world, is a form of power in itself but as technology continues to change and legislation plays catch up, it is important to remember that big tech is still slow to step in and truly support the consumer first. There are clearly concerns about our digital rights, but our collective behaviour tells otherwise. Are we really concerned about increasing our digital exposure or is it all just about power?