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The Data Conundrum – Part 1 of 2 - ‘A World of Data’

It’s often said we are on the cusp of a new era of hyper-connectivity. Driven by cheaper devices, faster processing speeds, wearable tech and the 'Internet of things', we now have a greater connection to the world around us than ever before.

The capability of new digital technologies has led to the collection, storage and trading of personal data on an unprecedented scale, a practice largely imperceptible to consumers. Moreover, as the world, and our interactions get smarter, the questions around privacy, ownership of data and what companies can do with it, become increasingly ambiguous.

A great example of this is the smart toothbrush that was launched – and much discussed – at the world mobile congress. The toothbrush works in conjunction with an app to collect data on how often, how long, and how hard you brush your teeth. That data can then be fed directly back to your dentist. When you go for regular check-ups, your dentist can advise you accordingly in order to maintain your healthy teeth.

The data is then also shared with retailers like Tesco, who could use the data to send through personalised offers when your toothbrush is likely to need replacing. Well, that’s what could happen, at any rate.

For some, the offer of a discounted toothbrush might be welcome. But for others, this level of data sharing is highly intrusive. What happens when insurance companies refuse to pay out a cheque for your dental care because they know you haven’t been looking after your teeth properly? For most, this is probably a step to far.

The potential value of this data to companies has transformed privacy into a transaction—one in which consumers are not benefitting from equally. Currently, the transfer of data between consumers and companies is a one-sided handshake in which consumers have little power and less control. The likes of Google and Facebook have been making significant revenues off the back of peoples’ data and this is only going to increase as more data is made available, and the more they know about their users.

Undoubtedly more and more data will become available as the tools we use to gather and interpret it become more sophisticated. The question of personal data usage is likely to become something of a bad tooth, unless we’re pro-active in how we tackle the problem.  

According to entrepreneur Claudio Gandelman, the users who create and share much of the content that sites use to advertise against – that is, the people that provide all the data for the targeted ads that make these sites so profitable – never make any money. The next logical step is for the people to get paid.