Now is Not the Time to Give Users Control of Their Data

The proof of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has sparked the latest flare in an endless series of revelations on how companies and governments mine and commercialize our personal data. In an attempt to get consumers back in the driver’s seat, recent updates to data protection regulations such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA mandate transparency and control as critical pillars of privacy protection. . In the words of the European Commission: “This is your data — control!”

Empowering consumers by giving them a noble purpose is sure to have a lot of appeal. However, in today’s data ecosystem, control is less a right than it is a responsibility — one that most of us are not equipped to deal with. Even if our brains are magically able to keep up with the rapidly changing technology landscape, protecting and managing one’s personal data can still be a full-time job.

Think of it this way: Managing your sailing boat is truly unique when you drift off the shores of the Mediterranean on a beautiful day. You can decide which of the many cute little towns to manage, and there are no wrong options. Now let’s imagine navigating the same sailing boat amidst loud thunder. You have no idea which direction to go, and none of your options seem very good. Having the “right” to control your own ship under these circumstances can be less attractive, and can very easily lead to disaster.

And yet, that’s exactly what we do: Current regulations throw people into the middle of a raging sea of ​​technology and bless them with the right to control their personal data. Instead of forcing the tech industry to make systematic changes that will create a more secure and more reliable ecosystem, we place the burden of protecting consumers ’personal data. Taking this step is to protect storm creators more than sailors.

For users to be able to control their personal data successfully, regulators must first create the right environment that guarantees basic protection, in the same way that the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the world of investment and protects individuals from making poor decisions. Under the right conditions, individuals can choose between a series of desired outcomes, rather than a mixture of unwanted ones. That is, we must first calm the sea before giving individuals more control over their boats. There are a few steps regulators can take immediately to calm the water.

First, we need to make it expensive for companies to collect and use personal data by taxing companies for the data they collect. If they have to pay for every piece of data they collect, they will think twice about whether they need it.

Regulators should also mandate that defaults are set with an adequate level of protection. Users ’data should be monitored unless they choose otherwise, a concept called“ privacy by design ”. No one has the time to create privacy to protect their full-time job. Protecting information should be easy. Privacy by design reduces conflict on the way to privacy, and guarantees that fundamental rights are automatically protected.

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