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Personal Data Control Is a Shared Responsibility

Is this simply the price we have to pay for the conveniences we’ve gotten used to?


Would you believe that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone? Every day, we generate a staggering amount of information, and the number continues to grow exponentially. While we may assume the majority of the data flowing along mobile networks or across the Internet is impersonal, it’s not: It’s all about who we are, who we know, where we are, where we have been and where we plan to go.

Personal data is much more than a credit card number or a password. In fact, our behavior is a key component of the never-ending feed of information we create. Nearly any type of data can be used like a fingerprint to identify its owner, from the websites we visit to the social media messages we interact with. Coordinates of our real-world locations, purchase histories, texts and photos: Each of us has an increasingly detailed digital record of everything we make and do online and in the world.

Personal data is much more than a credit card number or a password.

Is this simply the price we have to pay for the conveniences we’ve gotten used to? A recent survey found that while more than half of Americans don’t want to lose control over their personal data, they believe this loss has already happened. We could collectively shrug our shoulders and decide it’s too late — or we could decide that we have the right to know what’s happening with our personal data and realize that control over data is the responsibility of all stakeholders.

Data privacy is different from data security. In the case of security, we’ve already made the choice to turn over our information, and we’re asking, “How are you going to protect my credit card/social security number/address?” With data privacy, the question becomes broader: “Do I want to share this?”

Our personal data is valuable, not just to identity thieves but to marketers: The personal data market has become a $156 billion industry. The fact is, we have become the commodity. Personal data has value. We must ask the question: Should I also be able to benefit from the data I’m creating?

It’s my belief that personal data is on its way to becoming a big national conversation as we shift our concern about cyber security and begin to prioritize transparency and control over our personal information. Organizations will eventually work to set themselves apart with data-sharing standards, but again, this is a shared responsibility and this movement will be driven only by awareness and demand.

Here are a few tips for managing personal data in the New Year:

  • Get smart. The first step toward protecting our personal data is knowledge. Get familiar with the basics at the Identity Theft Resource Center, which includes a comprehensive selection of tips, fact sheets and articles.
  • Look for a trustworthy data relationship. Learn more about businesses that support ITRC’s mission and are transparent and forthcoming about how they handle your data. Everyone’s personal data preference is unique, but the common goal is to make informed choices. Read the privacy policy and terms and conditions before you make the choice to engage with a company.
  • Join the personal data conversation. This is our chance to create a digital world that is collaborative and encourages the flow of valuable information without holding our data hostage. If we don’t care about what happens to our personal data, we’ll eventually exist in a system in which privacy is a thing of the past.
  • Take control of your personal data. Control over our personal data should be a right, not a privilege. All these tiny data breadcrumbs we leave throughout our day have the potential to lead to a world that’s incredibly invasive, if we don’t maintain the ability to share data at will. It’s time to start thinking of personal data as a valuable asset that needs to be safely and transparently handled, and work together to protect ourselves from privacy abuses.

Now is your chance to be your own advocate for a balanced, controlled, trustworthy personal data ecosystem — because, without action, we’ll continue to lose ground.

Eva Casey Velasquez is the president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. She also serves as a trustee on the Personal BlackBox Trust, a Delaware statutory trust that brings together an independent board of experts in consumer rights, privacy, big data and copyright to promote a better data relationship between companies and their consumers. Previously, she served as the vice president of operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau, and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. Reach her @ITRCCEO.

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