Thanksgiving and Black Friday have already passed, and now, for many of us, the real fun begins on Cyber Monday. While we are searching the whole web for the best deals on new clothing and that big TV, it is also a good time to put some thought into our digital identities.
What is Digital Identity?
The internet has essentially become a necessity in our daily lives; both work and personal. Whether we like it or not, every interaction we make online helps to create a more comprehensive identity of our digital selves. Digital identities are not only your shopping history and google searches, but also include how you use your apps (fitness, sleep, etc.), where you have taken Uber rides, the social media updates you have posted, the friends you interact with, your credit, and so much more.
Why should you care?
Businesses collect and own all these different pieces of data about you and your digital interactions. In a way, it is easy to argue that businesses know more about you than you know about yourself. Some reputable companies will collect your data and actually use it to try to serve you better, similar to how Netflix or Pandora will try to learn about you in order to offer better suggestions for new movies or songs you will probably enjoy.
However, it is also easy for companies to collect your personal data and prioritize their own profitability. Think about how much Facebook probably already knows about you: your name, photographs, contact information, education, employment, friends, family, hobbies, links to other social sites, likes/preferences, political opinions, and any information you have revealed in either a public status or private message. Let’s not forget, Facebook also captures other data such as your current location, possibly your payment information, and can even automatically tag you and your friends in your photos through the use of facial recognition technology. If you are wondering how profitable your data is, Facebook made $5.2 billion in just Q1 2016 from advertising revenue, according to The Wall Street Journal. How? Facebook essentially sells your data to advertisers to help them target you more easily. It is easier for many advertisers to get the data they want about you from Facebook than it is to ask you for it, since Facebook already owns this personal data. Facebook owns your data and advertisers are willing to pay for it.
Want an even better idea how valuable your data is? Here’s a fun calculator from the Financial Times built to give you an estimate of data valuation.
Now let’s get serious – there ARE opportunities for us as consumers to benefit from sharing our data with the companies we interact with. For example, I recently found a lot of value from a product recommendation Amazon gave me. When I was purchasing a new string for my recurve bow, I was relieved when Amazon suggested I add a new stringer to my purchase. What a disaster it would have been to drive 4 hours north, start assembling my bow, and finally realize I was stuck because I didn’t have the necessary tools for assembly! On a greater scale, I also like that my credit union has access to my transactional data. When my credit union realizes I frequently use my credit card to shop for groceries at Target, my credit union has an opportunity to incent that behavior in a way that is beneficial for all parties involved. Businesses accessing personal data is not inherently bad, but there are still steps to be taken to protect and fully take advantage of our digital identities.
What can you do to protect your Digital Identity?
Not surprisingly, the easiest precaution is to simply think before you share, click, like, etc. It also doesn’t hurt to actually read those privacy agreements we are all used to skipping through. Did you know, for example, that deactivating your Facebook account does NOT delete the data stored on that account? Or that even when you permanently delete your Facebook account, information such as your private messages still remain Facebook’s property and do not get deleted? These are details in the lengthy text you have to agree to when you choose to utilize the services. Check out Facebook’s Data Policy page to learn more.
Like many Americans, I look forward to finding a great Cyber Monday deal on that item I’ve been eyeing. While digital identities are largely out of our control right now, it is a necessity we have to put up with and should be aware of. While Cyber Monday is great for a quick win, I am even more excited for a future in which we can control our own digital identities.