Has Data Privacy Gone Too Far?

In May of 2009, I took a huge social step and joined the Twitter Universe.

As a college freshman studying Journalism, Twitter seemed like the best place to share with the world newsworthy items I was working on. My first tweet must have shown the world that I meant business, right?

Perhaps I missed the mark on creating a memorable first tweet.

The early years of social media felt freeing; we didn’t have to talk to anyone. We could just post it in the vast universe of the internet and it felt good to put our random thoughts or a play by play of our monotonous actions on these mediums.

In the first month of my time on Twitter I posted 14 tweets ranging from “Schedules can be rather frustrating.” (5/14/2009) to “Do what you can, when you can, and things will become simpler” (5/31/2009).

I have no idea what inspired me to type out these thoughts to the world, but I shared them willingly to my followers (or lack there of). I’m sure many people can relate to this type of experience.

While I ultimately gave up on Twitter many years ago, my social media habits stayed strong and involved checking my Facebook and Reddit feeds. However, this changed as I learned about how my data was being used.

In 2016, the United States presidential election showcased to the world the power that social networks have by collecting seamlessly harmless information like I shared in May of 2009. After the primaries, Facebook offered to embed employees with both the Clinton and the Trump campaigns. The Clinton campaign rejected this offer while the Trump campaign accepted any help that was offered.

In a NPR Fresh Air segment, local Philly legendary journalist, Terry Gross interviewed New Yorker columnist Evan Osnos who was covering Facebook extensively. Osnos reported about the interactions between Facebook and the Trump Campaign that, “[Facebook] helped them craft their messages. They helped them figure out how to reach the largest possible audience, how to test different messages — many, many messages a day to figure out just what — small differences, changing the background color or changing the text or the font — how that would impact the number of people that would click on it and ultimately might give money and support the candidate.”

As I learned about how my data was being transacted upon, I had to take a step back and evalutate my relationship with these networks.

In the past few years we have seen countless changes in how we approach data privacy. It’s not unusual to visit a webpage without being assaulted by some generic statement that in order to continue using the site we give consent to have our data stored.

After the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in Europe in May of 2018, it seemed every organization sent an email stating they have updated their data privacy laws.

I can assure you I haven’t read a single updated Data Privacy agreement, and I will always and mindlessly click ‘OK’ to allow a site to store digital ‘cookies’ to track my movements on a given website.

While these steps seem like a fair reaction to what we now know about how social media companies use our data, have we swung too far towards privacy?

Our organization sells DiSC behavioral assessments to help people understand their own behaviors and learn how to take this knowledge apply within their own organizations and teams.

These assessments are deeply personal. However, there is nothing from these assessments that you wouldn’t be able to determine within a normal conversation that you would have on any given day.

In compliance with GDPR, users who take our assessments must agree and give consent to allow us to use their data from the assessment to generate a report to show them their personal behavioral style.

It’s surprising how often we receive an email that someone hasn’t given consent. Unfortunately, when a person doesn’t give consent, they are unable to take the assessment.

The true irony is that the information provided during these assessments will ultimately help the respondent better understand themselves. Usually, peers of the person taking the assessment already know all of the information that is provided. For whatever reason, we believe what is told about us by report more so than by those who know us best.

The Human Resource industry is slowly catching up to the rest of the digital world. Data is being used in many intuitive ways to help individuals and teams make choices on how to hire, promote, and train. If, as individuals, we decide that we want to take part in these advances, we might miss out on many wonderful achievements and experiences.

As an example, teams that have taken a DiSC assessment have reported that they now know each other on a more personal level and this has created more trust.

2019 is rapidly shaping up to become the year that we take back our personal data. In many ways, I support this change. However, I hope that we don’t go too far and allow our fears to cut us off completely.

On May 7th, 2009, I signed up for Twitter and announced to the world I was going to a Sports Banquet.

Theoretically, I gave up my location data, my age, and my gender. When I would login into Twitter on a iPhone a few months later I would give up even more data points (GPS data, website viewing data, purchasing data, application data, etc.)

I could look back on that decision and, with everything I know now about how the data was used, become a hermit in the digital age. I could renounce all forms of digital technology.

I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I look back on that post and remember an event I absolutely forgot.

There are trade offs in our new digital world. While it’s important to understand what those tradeoffs are, I hope don’t throw all of the benefits out with desire for absolute privacy.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adam Stamm

Just your average irrational human trying to better understand the world.