Privacy in a data-driven IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled world can be an emotionally charged issue—one fraught with personal, business, legal, and political challenges and implications. In a couple of different ways, privacy has had its share of the limelight already in 2019. Most likely, it’ll be a talking point for as long as data is considered valuable.
California Governor Gavin Newsom’s first State of the State address earlier this month got people talking about privacy in his state and beyond. Newsom said tech companies that make billions of dollars collecting, curating, and monetizing customers’ personal data “have a duty to protect it” and that “consumers have a right to know and control how their data is being used.” The state has already passed a digital privacy law, but now Newsom is calling for a data dividend, which would essentially allow Californians to get paid for sharing their digital data with companies.
While the initiative sounds enticing for consumers, pundits point out that consumers seem willing to trade their private data for free services from companies like Google and Facebook. A recent survey by the Center for Data Innovation, for instance, demonstrates that while a majority of consumers wish companies like Google and Facebook would collect less of their personal data (67.8% strongly agree and 12% somewhat agree), not many agree with the notion of paying a monthly subscription fee in exchange for having less data collected (just 18% strongly agree and 8.7% somewhat agree).
In a connected world, some data is much more sensitive than other data. On one hand, there is search, browsing, and purchase histories, along with demographic data and possibly even credit card numbers and social security numbers. On the other hand, there is biometric data, which is often considered even more sensitive than the former examples, because if stolen or compromised, there’s nothing a victim can do to change or reclaim his biologically unique data.
A recent lawsuit against Six Flags has brought to light the importance of protecting biometric data in a digital age. Rosenbach v. Six Flags involves a mother bringing suit against the entertainment company for fingerprinting her son when he purchased a season pass to one of its amusement parks without obtaining written consent or disclosing the company’s plan for the collection, storage, use, or destruction of his biometric identifiers or information, which would appear to be in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
The resulting conversation about whether a person by must “aggrieved” by a violation of the act has industry-wide implications. As pointed out in the act itself, the full and complete ramifications of biometric technology and the data it collects from individuals are not yet known. For that reason, biometric data should be treated cautiously—perhaps, due to the nature of biometric information, even more cautiously than other types of personally identifiable data.
Data is a type of currency in today’s connected world, and privacy is going to be a consistent topic for conversation as even more companies look to leverage data—and, in some cases, increasingly sensitive types of data, such as biometrics—in order to improve products and services. For consumers who truly want to protect their privacy in a digital age, there may be tradeoffs. As the age-old adage suggests—nothing is truly free.
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