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Discovering Personal Data in the Internet Generation

At a time when data security is ever-pressing, businesses, like West.Frontier, are striving to connect with those individuals that have had their entire lives documented online. West.Frontier offers a scholarship to college students that can provide ingenuity, in the form of an essay, that conquers any future stressors that will endanger internet use.

Telecommunications companies, in particular, have spent millions of dollars establishing data privacy standards and transparency promotions, but ultimately internet and cellphone users, generations Y through Alpha, are pressing harder than ever to take back a piece of their own personal data.

While it’s not inside the constraints of 200 words, here is my answer to Frontier’s “Save the Internet” query:

At this time, the most existential threat to the internet is the combination of the depth of data repositories, the retail acquisitions of data companies, and the profitability associated with consumer data.

Personal data companies, like Sherbit and Saga, are striving to provide free products, like iPhone apps, to help start a data revolution that puts the power of personal data back into each user’s hands. Sherbit’s iOS app will compile all of your data from other applications into a search engine of your own information. After all, if large companies or governments can gain insight from our daily choices, personal research, and actions in order to sell us products and services, why shouldn’t we be able to hone skills, best our habits or find patterns for ourselves?

In truth, at this continued pace, we are driving ourselves towards a data-apocalypse. As each consumer relies on a myriad of devices to search for company and product, retail companies streamline purchases by providing more and more customized information via cellphones and search habits. Lives are becoming dependent on internet search intent and retail response. This is where I see an opportunity. Search intent may be specific to each user, but that does not give corporations the right to abuse that knowledge to leverage what information is collected, analyzed and shared for profit.

At every opportunity, the internet is barraged with intent to question, research, compare, develop, and act. Each step of that process files away into a repository of data – whether in corporate hardware, personal device, search engine, email, or website. Our lives are so fully tracked that every individual that partakes in actions on the internet has a unique fingerprint specific to his or her daily internet use habits. These habits are tracked by device location, API data transfer, browser cookies, time-on-site, Google search, etc – meaning that a multitude of companies are analyzing information about you that you may not recognize is important – credit card purchases, locations visited, travel plans, relationships, future investments, health, etc.

The consequences, as you can suspect, are lack of safety due to monitoring, credit & background fraud, breach of trust, career implications, etc.

What should be installed in order to fix this? Consider individual, instead of corporate, ownership – creating personal data policies around silos of data. A global regulation to allow the ability to mandate how data is analyzed and used in consumer-related information versus government or corporate research will be pivotal moving forward. Each consumer should know the consequences associated with sharing his or her day-to-day stats – whether it’s health, location, finance, career goals, brand-loyalty, etc.

As such, I do think companies like West.Frontier are on to something. Culturing perspective and transparency on data security will prove to instill awareness in our youngest, most innovative generation. It will be exciting to witness how we’ll tackle the upcoming challenges of being plugged in.

Laura Cryst

Find out more about Laura, here.