Data is becoming a bigger part of our lives than ever before. We’re all but constantly connected to the internet, we rely on more online data-based services than ever before, and collectively, we create something like 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.
In the wake of these monumental societal changes, consumer expectations for data security are beginning to evolve.
For starters, the stakes are growing. Two decades ago, if one of your accounts was hacked, it probably meant someone could read one of the few emails you’d exchanged with your friends. Today, if one of your accounts is hacked, it could lead to your identity being stolen, and other accounts of yours being compromised.
We rely on technological systems for almost everything we do. We use it for banking, for storing our important files and information, for communicating, and even for logistics. On a bigger scale, we use tech systems to provide and manage utilities, and to plan and execute military tactics. A single strategic point of entry could eliminate access to vital resources for weeks, if not months, or cost a governmental organization billions of dollars.
Consumers are also becoming more painfully aware of the importance of data security. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the internet was something of a novelty—it was an optional and contained place where you could engage with other people at your own discretion, and you kept most of your personal data to yourself. Today, we’re fully immersed in a world that’s constantly demanding our attention and information—and consumers are starting to feel the fallout from it.
High-profile scandals are bringing attention to the inherent vulnerabilities of our current data systems. For example, back in 2013, Target was the victim of a data breach that ended up costing more than $18.5 million. And recently, Facebook became embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which left its one-billion-plus users wondering how well protected their data truly was.
Lack of Concern
There’s also the fact that companies don’t seem to care much about data privacy or consumer protection—at least unless they’re forced to. Companies frequently try to cover up or downplay their own weaknesses, and force users to jump through hoops to change their privacy settings. On top of that, many services that claim to be well-protected actually require consumers to create additional security, like adding encryption to Google Drive to ensure your files are better-protected.
Consumers are also seeing increased action by governments to change how companies gain, use, and protect consumer data. The EU’s Right to Be Forgotten policy ensures that consumers are able to remove old or irrelevant information about themselves from search results, and in the wake of that act, many European countries have attempted to penalize tech companies like Google and Facebook for violating antitrust laws. In this increasingly public conversation, it’s only natural that consumers would have less trust for the companies responsible for handling their personal data.
What Consumers Are Demanding
So what changes, exactly, are consumers demanding?
- First, consumers want to be assured that their data is private. Some companies that have recognized this have become massively popular as a result; Snapchat, with the promise of deleting posts after a fixed amount of time, has won over younger generations, who fear the long-term repercussions of posting on Facebook. DuckDuckGo, a search engine that bills itself as a more private alternative to Google, has seen its popularity skyrocket in recent years.
- Consumers also need to know that their data is being protected. When they use a credit card with a company, they don’t want to worry about whether their information is going to be stolen and used by criminals. When they upload photos to your cloud server, they don’t want to think about someone seeing them.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they want companies to be more transparent about their data policies. Rather than forcing consumers to agree with a long and technically complicated terms of service document before using the service, they want a simplified and sensible explanation of when, why, and how their data could be collected and used. They want companies to own up to their mistakes instead of burying them, and want to hear firsthand what those companies are doing to prevent those mistakes in the future.
The landscape of consumer data is unlikely to settle down anytime soon. Every year, new technology allows us to connect with each other faster and more efficiently than ever before, and companies find newer, more innovative ways to store and share our data. It’s a complicated world, and consumers will likely continue to strive to find their place in it.