Zuckerberg, you’re wrong

Revelations that Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook members’ personal data and more recent allegations from fellow tech giant Oracle that Google has been extracting Android mobile users’ data at the customers’ expense are just the tip of a massive iceberg, according to digital futurist Chris Riddell.

‘These recent high profile data protection scandals represent the biggest crisis Silicon Valley tech companies have ever faced and it’s not going to go away anytime soon,’ Riddell says.

Google immediately denied the allegations but Riddell believes the theory is credible.

‘The majority of tech companies have been harvesting our information for years, some more legitimately than others. This is massive. It will be the most defining topic of 2018 for business. Companies will die if they get this wrong.’

Both cases follow numerous other breaches, stories, articles, policies, campaigns, programmes and reports that have steadily eroded over the past decade the public’s trust in the way corporations and governments manage personal data. What makes these recent scandals more volatile is that tech industry insiders are beginning to speak out, both to expose misdeeds and to corroborate them. Oracle may appear to have a vested interest as a competitor but it’s not as simple as that.

‘The lines have blurred,’ explains Riddell. ‘Competitors can also be partners and customers these days.’

When asked whether he agreed this was the biggest crisis yet for Silicon Valley, former Facebook CEO for Australia and New Zealand Stephen Scheeler said, ‘On the one hand, I’d agree. These stories are of greater scale and have been subject to more scrutiny by both the public and regulators. But Facebook and Google have probably had bigger, more existential crises in the past. I think it’s a good thing [that we’re focusing on these breaches]. It reflects a new consciousness about people’s rights.’

While there has been some debate about whether, beyond Facebook investors, tech commentators and Twitterati, the general public care very much, there is evidence to suggest they do.

The mainstream media has seized upon the recent scandals, amplifying the claims levelled against its apparent competitors, but the general public has also played a role.

‘There’s been a huge wave of people sharing the stories online,’ Riddell says.

Consumers generally don’t trust companies with their personal data

The UK’s Market Research Society CEO Jane Frost agrees that privacy is important to consumers. ‘Our research continues to show a very low level of trust with handling of data. Trustworthy use of data is the number one priority for consumers.’

MRS UK published a significant report this year titled How technology impacts consumer trust following on from its 2015 report, Private lives? Putting the consumer at the heart of the privacy debate.

The most recent report concluded that security of personal data was the largest single driver of trust. Respondents placed this at number one in six of seven sectors. This shows that the impact of news stories into data breaches, or their personal experience of it, affects with whom they choose to do business. The report has also attracted media attention, with the headline, ‘[Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg you’re wrong, kids are worried about their privacy’. What’s more, the report found, young people punish sloppy data handling the most.

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