The year 2018 will go down history as a tumultuous year when privacy and data protection took center stage. No other year perhaps has seen so many privacy and data related events taking place back to back.
The massive general data protection regulation came into effect by the European Union in May 2018; shaking up the entire world and companies that deal with customer data. Close on the heels of the GDPR, California past its own data protection rule called Consumer Privacy Act.
California is a basket case
Experts consider it the most stringent data protection regulation that the US has ever seen. There has been a lot of opposition to this Act but it is supposed to take effect in 2019.
The biggest news of 2018 perhaps was Facebook’s big reveal of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where the data of 86 million users was collected without consent and used in the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to testify before the Senate and try to win back trust. This same year Equifax, one of the biggest credit reporting agencies, revealed its worst data breach.
With all these data and privacy violations taking place, Internet users are not sitting quietly. A recent survey revealed that Internet users have become more aware in recent months and have started to be more concerned about their online security.
They also use one or more Internet security tools to keep themselves and their data safe online.
The Year of the Privacy-focused Consumer
In the past few months, various events have led tech companies to reveal unintentionally just how much data they collect from users without their consent.
If events like the Facebook data scandal had not happened, consumers would never be able to know that these companies collect such massive amounts of their data without their knowledge.
Later, the GDPR going into effect also gave the ordinary person significant insight into how data is collected, stored and used by these companies.
Before these data breaches began to come to light, not many people had any idea just how much data various companies have been collecting and using for various purposes without consent.
Advertisement is one of the biggest purposes for which user data is required. 2018 was also the year when consumers realized that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are basically ad companies; selling people ‘free’ services in exchange for their data.
In the US and several other places around the world, there has been increased awareness about data privacy.
The Rise of Privacy Awareness
The public has become more aware of the data collection strategies of various companies. Internet users are now more conscious of their privacy rights. As a result, they are adopting a number of tools to remain safe online.
In short, consumers are more proactive about protecting their online privacy and lawmakers are in support of them; as is evident from the data protection and privacy laws passed by several states in the US.
Not Ambivalent Anymore
For the longest time, data brokers and organizations assumed that consumers do not understand online privacy or data collection. It’s true that a lot of people still don’t understand how data sharing and data collection work.
A lot of people still don’t read or understand privacy policies. They tend to agree to them without realizing that they are consenting to the collection and sharing of their personal information. But the majority of Internet-educated users are aware of their privacy rights and are ready to go to any extent to preserve their privacy online.
Until very recently, organizations used to believe that consumers would remain loyal no matter what. But the recent privacy violations by Facebook and Google have proved that customer trust also has a limit, and without the right ethics that trust is soon to run out.
Companies cannot win consumer trust anymore only with the right products and services; they also have to care about their privacy and offer the highest level of data protection.
Consumers and lawmakers
Privacy advocates and lawmakers are in support of consumers and their rights. These days, internet users have become aware of the various threats floating around online and also about the solutions to remain safe against them.
Virtual private networks are one of the most popular online security tools to remain safe against these threats, but people are also very cautious when purchasing a VPN service.
Just like tech companies, some VPN services also keep logs of user data and share them with third party advertisers.
This is more common among free VPNs that rely on advertising revenue. There has been a lot of awareness about free VPNs and their dangers. Therefore, consumers are always cautious when purchasing a VPN solution for online safety.
In the coming months, consumers will potentially become more aware and proactive in protecting their online privacy.
They will alert regulators about flaws and violations. They might even file class-action lawsuits and boycott organizations that fail to protect their online privacy. In the US at least, people have the support of lawmakers and consumer privacy advocates.
Not Black and White
With the US abolishing net neutrality, some states have been coming up with their own data protection regulations but many have not. These regulations have found mixed support from citizens because they all focus on the ethical use of data but what does that mean?
The collection and use of customer data can never be completely stopped but consumer awareness and data protection regulations can help ensure that the proper ethics are followed when doing so.