Normal, routine activities from daily life generate large amounts of data. Who owns this data, has access to it, and what they can do with it is largely unregulated and undisclosed. Little-by-little more and more aspects of daily life are recorded and stored meaning very little of what you do, where you go, and who you see is not being watched and recorded.

What is changing?

Technology is now ubiquitous in many aspects of daily life recording data about your purchases, travels, and interactions.  And advances in technology mean more and more data is not only collected, but also stored, about you and your activities, often without being disclosed.

Visual software, including license plate readers and facial recognition, make it easy to record daily movements and identify individuals.  It is not illegal to record you or your car as you go about your daily activities and many companies do so feeding the data into large private databases.  The use and collection of this data is often unregulated and you will never know it has been collected.

Daily activities that create large amounts of personal data include:

  • Driving- Newer sources of data include motor vehicles where “black box” recorder software, similar to that of airplanes, records data about driving patterns and behaviour including where and how fast you drive, if seat belts are worn and numerous other data points.  All data which can be used by insurance companies to personalise rates, deny claims and share with the police in case of an accident or criminal proceedings.  In addition there are third parties which record the license plates of cars at certain locations and provide it to large private databases creating a record of your car and its movements.  Many motor vehicle operators do not realise there is no privacy around their movements.
  • Improvements in facial recognition software means accessing public transportation, going to a hospital or public building, creates another data trail as not only is the image recorded but it can be used to personally identify people and assess behaviour for suspicious or criminal activity.  See an advertisement in a public place, the viewer might be recorded to gauge the emotional reaction and the ad’s effectiveness.
  • When shopping online, where the user accesses the internet from, where they live and the history of previous purchases can influence the pricing the user receives.  Pricing shown to one user might be totally different from another.  Use email, perform a search on the internet, post a picture on a site for friends and family to see and a whole set of data is generated and stored.
  • Health issues are increasingly monitored and recorded electronically creating large amounts of data about an individual’s health in the process.
  • Mobile phone users create vast amounts of data, not only about who they talk to, but also where they go, and who they know.

Why is it important?

Today’s legal frameworks, consumer and privacy protection laws were written before much of today’s technology existed.

Collecting data about every aspect of daily life has become easier and cheaper but the rules and laws governing the use this data lags behind legal and social expectations.  Today’s legal frameworks, consumer and privacy protection laws were written before much of today’s technology existed. Technology is removing the need to provide consent, for law enforcement to obtain warrants, and for individuals to be informed that information is collected or accessed about their personal activities. Without controls around collection, ownership, and use of data, it leaves open the possibility of abuse, discrimination and criminal activity.

Personal information is highly sought after by many companies to market additional products and services, tailor their own product offerings and in some cases to deny you service. Research by Ovum in late 2012 of European and American online consumers reveals 75% of people realise their data is collected and almost half realise their data will be sold to others to generate revenue. But 68% indicate if there was a way to prevent their online activities from being tracked they would do so.

In Europe legislation is being discussed to allow users to control if data about their online activities is collected.  It would require online sites to disclose what data is collected, what it is used for and who has access to it.  In addition it may require the ability for sites to correct and/or delete data about users at their request.

Governments are heavily involved in the collection, monitoring and storing of personal communications.  The US government has announced plans to build the world’s largest data centre to monitor the communications of US citizens.  The UK government has similar plans.  These government monitoring programmes are justified in the name of national security or terrorism, but are well beyond the scope of any currently legal monitoring of citizens private communications without legal justification.

Awareness is growing about consumer information, but there is a growing volume of personal information collected, stored and analysed with no customer relationship in place.  In the future as individuals realise just how much personal information is collected, accessible and used for revenue or surveillance  purposes by private and government organisations a backlash is likely.  The next frontier in big data may very well be the control of data about you.

By Elizabeth Rudd

About the author

Elizabeth has a strong background assisting clients to navigate the often conflicting signals in their external environments and find innovative opportunities . As a strategic foresight consultant at FutureNous she has assisted organisation to explore the future to find new products, alter their business model, find expansion opportunities and build their resilience. Her experience spans many industries including technology, mining, utilities, healthcare, non-profits, government, media and telecommunications, and many others. Elizabeth also works with Shaping Tomorrow writing Trend Alerts and more in-depth reports exploring the impact of long term (macro) trends.