The Right to Privacy

05 April 2022

We’re spending more time than ever online, both for work and for recreation. As such, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the issues of data harvesting and how your personal data is being used online.

The biggest problem with data harvesting is that a small group of companies entirely dominate the industry. Users are utterly unaware (or utterly uncaring) of the risks of being exposed to the curated version of the internet that these data-rich big tech companies promote.

Your personal data’s journey

So, what do you understand by the term ‘personal data’? You might think of data as addresses and contact numbers, banking details, health records, and so on. This is correct, and data like this makes up the most sensitive information stored online.

However, it goes further. Your personal activity also counts as data. Think browsing activity, social media posts, location data, search-engine queries, even what you ask your Alexa or Google Assistant. This reveals a lot about you and is usually monetised in ways that personal details are not.

There are other kinds of data collection that you might not even know about. For example, did you realise that some companies analyse the way you type or use your smart device? Biometric data like facial recognition is also used to collect information, something that Facebook and Instagram were both in hot water over last year.

Sometimes data is given willingly by users, but too often people don’t understand the specifics of what is being given up when they tick a consent box. The finer details are part of a hard-to-read service agreement that’s often overlooked.

Many apps use your location to target you with custom advertisements, but they don’t make it clear that your data might then be sold to a third-party so they can analyse the local shops or businesses you visit.

You’ll be aware to an extent that you’re being tracked. After all, the same advertisement following you from web page to web page is a bit of a giveaway. But few people realise companies aren’t just analysing clicks, but also the exact movements of a user’s mouse.

The adage ‘nothing in life is free’ is a good one to bear in mind here. The way companies see it, you’re receiving something in return for your data being monetised, by getting to use their app or services (Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps, etc) for free. You’re essentially paying for the use with your personal data, which is then used to target you with ads, in an ongoing cycle.

The engagement issue

A huge issue in data harvesting is the way it can influence the way you behave online in social spaces too. A prime example is the curation of your social media algorithms, showing you a systematised feed.

This leads to users being stuck in a virtual ‘echo chamber’ that manipulates thinking and social interaction, promoting polarisation and radicalisation on certain topics.

Although it’s not a new problem online we’ve seen many examples of the damage this can do during the pandemic and the social and political upheaval of the past year.

Engagement is far and away the highest risk issue online today. Again, this is something that most people are blissfully unaware of.

Data gathering for security

In some cases, data gathering for behavioural insight is required for security. This leads to an issue where a careful balance needs to be struck, and extreme care needs to be taken over the safeguarding of data collected for this purpose.

A prime example is in the hospitality and leisure industries, with establishments collecting, storing and sharing (if required) customer data for use in ‘track and trace’ during the pandemic.

We fully believe that as an individual you have the right to decide how your personal data is shared, to retain control over said personal data, and to be confident that it’s being used ethically.

Organisations and institutions have the responsibility to ensure that they’re using the correct methods for handling, storing, processing and sharing personal data, and doing this in a way that’s compliant with regulations.

We’re here to help

At Croft, we’re committed to ‘doing it with care’. For us this means doing the right thing, because it matters — and we care about why it matters. When it comes to the privacy and security of our clients, we treat this with the highest priority, because it’s part of our mission to care for our customers, care for our company, and consider the impact of our actions.

We’re honoured to have the privacy and trust of our clients. If we sound like we could be a good fit to help with your business communications and technology, then please get in touch!

Contact the experts at Croft on 01920 466 466.