On Monday, Jennifer Lawrence woke up to find naked photos of herself leaked all over the Internet. She’d uploaded them to iCloud, believing them to be safe in Apple’s hands. Yet the service was apparently hacked, and now her most intimate moments are all too public. But, of course, you don’t have to be famous to suffer this kind of privacy invasion.
We reveal something private about ourselves every time we go online, without even realising it. It’s in what we tweet, what we Google and what we hashtag. Every day we use dozens of ‘free’ online services, not really thinking about their cost. All these interactions build up to create a rich digital picture of who we are – information that, taken collectively, is of huge value.
Businesses realise this and so, unfortunately, do hackers. Yet the public are largely oblivious to how much their data is really worth. That’s why they’ll give it away for free in a Facebook update. It’s an information economy that’s worryingly open to abuse, and it’s all driven by naivety. Warning the public about the dangers of online fraud is helpful, but ultimately we need an Internet that respects the data of its users.
That’s the world we need to start building – a world where data can be traded ethically. Businesses could then understand their customers in a deeper way than ever thought possible, in a way that would be completely transparent. And because that data would be volunteered with permission, it would be of a much higher quality than anything that’s currently mined.
Users would have the freedom to control their own data, to say who they shared it with and how it got used. Whenever someone uploaded a picture, tagged a photo or shared their thoughts with the world, they’d be able to trust where that information was stored. Wouldn’t that be a more empowering model for businesses and consumers alike? Everyone could express themselves freely without fear of their data being abused. Users would be valued as individuals, and companies would be able to talk to their customers as real people.
Through better understanding, the Internet can become a better place for everyone. And not just for Hollywood actors.
Jacob Wright is head of strategy at VisualDNA