It’s become clear that the battle for privacy, although not new, has emerged as one of the most pressing concerns in the tech- and data-driven world we occupy.

As with climate change, the need for drastic change is pressing, stakes are high and trust in the fundamentals of ‘business as usual’ has started to break down.

While in tech as in politics, there are antiheroes aplenty, we’re still searching for figureheads and new business models to enable the data industry to re-tool and move on.

GDPR is part of the solution, forming the closest thing the planet has right now to an accepted framework for the ethical capture, use and yes, monetisation of data.  

But as awareness and concern about privacy grows, the topic has begun to splinter into different elements.

As a citizen, you want to own and control your data and may have started to get curious about how much money is being made from your online life and habits. Our interview with Ruben Verborgh shares his own journey, and how you can make Subject Access Requests using a tool like TapMyData

As a business, you will have run some kind of GDPR readiness program and hopefully, have a clearer view of the inherent risks and compliance obligations associated with your use of personal data.

One of the less-publicised goals of GDPR and the movement for ‘Data Dignity’ is to break the near-monopoly position of the largest Facebook, Google and a few other platforms. If everyone plays by the same rules, this creates opportunities for fresh thinking, ethical approaches and practical applications for approaches like Privacy by Design which still lack traction.

Silicon Maverick Jason Lanier on fixing privacy.

The daunting problem both as a consumer or business is where to start? Smartphones and app messaging have revolutionised services and communication. Google offers all the ‘smart working’ horsepower we need to run our lives, and there is no viable alternative to Facebook’s reach for keeping family, friends (and enemies) in sight. If we turn our backs on this, won’t it be like moving into a (digital) cave?

The answer lies in small, practical steps which help us on the way to moving the needle of data commerce in line with the direction of travel to ethical data use. Facebook investor turned privacy activist Roger McNamee likens this to the pioneering video game Frogger, where you control a frog hopping from one log to another to avoid the dangers of sharks and the road which ceaselessly serves up squishy traffic.

If this is to be the way out, then the first step is to become aware of our data usage, the price of ‘free’ services on the web and what happens with the data we create.

When we installed a smart energy meter at home recently, it brought into focus exactly what our use of convenience appliances meant in terms of electricity and gas usage.

My first reaction was denial, then a search for a kettle which doesn’t gulp power (these don’t exist) and finally the realisation I would need to think more about the need to boil water now as opposed to putting a pan on and sacrificing a little convenience.

The result was that me and my other family members now keep an eye on our energy usage, and the act of checking the app becomes one where we feel rewarded in doing the right thing and saving some money on energy bills.

Is this a little smug? Probably, but making us more mindful of the energy use in our control at home, plus a financial benefit is a strong lever to applying this approach outdoors too. Smart brands regardless of size who can key into this movement and provide tools and the structure for incentives can open new opportunities for revenue and loyalty in a crowded market and we’re already seeing this in the context of energy switching and sustainability. 

In the next two parts, I’ll look at some options and products we think can help consumers and businesses take practical steps towards understanding, controlling and benefiting from the vast market which has grown up around our personal data… 

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