Why It’s So Hard for Users to Control Their Data

Bhaskar Chakravorti at the Harvard Business Review: “A recent IBM study found that 81% of consumers say they have become more concerned about how their data is used online. But most users continue to hand over their data online and tick consent boxes impatiently, giving rise to a “privacy paradox,” where users’ concerns aren’t reflected in their behaviors. It’s a daunting challenge for regulators and companies alike to navigate the future of data governance.

In my view, we’re missing a system that defines and grants users digital agency” — the ability to own the rights to their personal data, manage access to this data and, potentially, be compensated fairly for such access. This would make data similar to other forms of personal property: a home, a bank account or even a mobile phone number. But before we can imagine such a state, we need to examine three central questions: Why don’t users care enough to take actions that match their concerns? What are the possible solutions? Why is this so difficult?

Why don’t users’ actions match their concerns?

To start, data is intangible. We don’t actively hand it over. As a byproduct of our online activity, it is easy to ignore or forget about. A lot of data harvesting is invisible to the consumer — they see the results in marketing offers, free services, customized feeds, tailored ads, and beyond.

Second, even if users wanted to negotiate more data agency, they have little leverage. Normally, in well-functioning markets, customers can choose from a range of competing providers. But this is not the case if the service is a widely used digital platform. For many, leaving a platform like Facebook feels like it would come at a high cost in terms of time and effort and that they have no other option for an equivalent service with connections to the same people. Plus, many people use their Facebook logins on numerous apps and services. On top of that, Facebook has bought up many of its natural alternatives, like Instagram. It’s equally hard to switch away from other major platforms, like Google or Amazon, without a lot of personal effort.

Third, while a majority of American users believe more regulation is needed, they are not as enthusiastic about broad regulatory solutions being imposed. Instead, they would prefer to have better data management tools at their disposal. However, managing one’s own data would be complex – and that would deter users from embracing such an option….(More)”.