Will ‘Privacy Washing’ clean up data harvesters’ dirty deeds?

Published Jun 30, 2021 by Ncrypt

Tech companies are trying to make you feel safe – here’s why!

If ever people decided that they didn’t trust “Big Tech” companies and actually backed up their misgivings with real action, search engines and social media giants would collapse. The importance of ‘trust’ is growing in the world of commerce, in the realm of marketing and certainly in the big tech ecosystem where precious data nourishes the very existence and growth of life-giving ad revenue.

sheep and big tech

That’s right, data lays at the heart, or more correctly is the beating heart of the FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) of the world. Without data, life as they know it would simply cease. And who’s data are we talking about? Yours and mine. But we knew that already. Almost all of us have come to understand that we have to input or hand over some data to these platforms. That’s the old “exchange of benefits” arrangement that we’ve become used to: we give a name, email, maybe age and a few other details, and then we can post, watch, buy, share, like and comment to our heart’s content. 

So, we’re fine with that, but are we fine with this?

They want the data you want to give - and the data you don’t

To create, curate and deploy the most persuasive marketing messages, they are weaponised (and monetised) with a potent mix of your data, your online and offline experiences and your wants, ambitions and desires. And that is how Facebook makes around 96% of its revenue.

In fact, Facebook CFO Dave Wehner’s 2021 Q1 outlook commentary indicated that he was “pleased with the strength of our advertising revenue growth.” That growth being about 12% year on year at last count – the ads are working. 

The point is that your data is the fuel that makes the giant tech entities go. 

Millions, no billions of data points are collected throughout every moment of the night and day and they aren’t necessarily limited to personal detail. They can be commercial in nature, they can speak to research being undertaken, products in development, negotiations, deals – anything. If you name, say it, or look it up, it’ll end up in a data bucket with your name and/or your company name on the lid.

So back to the question, “are we fine with this?”

A 2020 survey by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), Angelene Falk, showed that almost 70% of people indicated that “protecting their personal information was a major concern in their life.” A major concern! With that being said, perhaps Big Tech does have a problem. But they believe they also have an answer.

The “privacy wash” shouldn’t wash with tech savvy users

Unfortunately access to your data is still critical to the commercial interests of Big Tech companies and so your privacy concerns must wait, but public concerns and awareness are growing. 

They see the danger of stemming the tide with common sense solutions and awareness. They see growing awareness of the relentless intrusions of privacy and data harvesting and despite widespread consumer ambivalence, apathy and sometimes ignorance, they know they must take action. 

Users need to be reassured, concerns need to be pandered to and people need to feel safe. Otherwise, the data dollars and the ads that drive them aren’t safe either. Users need to be made to feel private and protected - or they’re going to wake up and log off. And so, we have ‘privacy washing’. 

What is ‘Privacy Washing’?

Privacy washing can be loosely defined as Big Tech’s front that they actually care about their users’ privacy and data. Think branded online ‘safety’ centres that assert that privacy control rest with their users, Apple’s latest advertising campaign, or WhatsApp’s continued campaign for users to agree to their new terms and conditions. 

It’s all ‘feel good’, warm and fuzzy imagery and words of reassurance – “Hey, you can trust us!” - that is meant to becalm those who may have started to question just what they are giving these businesses access to. The other side of the privacy washing coin mocks those who ask questions, or who suggest that Big Tech can’t be trusted – “As if we read your messages, this guy is a tin foil hat wearer!” – on social media and other platforms. 

All up, it’s millions of advertising dollars spent on creating a fake front that keeps the public calm, reassured and safely in the passive flock that feeds their data and advertising demands. 

So what to do? What should you do?

Strong assurances addressing privacy concerns by companies that profit from people’s data don’t wash with many of us and nor should they. Instead, taking sensible steps to truly protect your digital footprint and data can be taken by investing in a VPN (virtual private network) – that’s just one of many steps but it’s a good start. 

No need to stop at feeling safe when you, your data and privacy can actually be safe as well. Seek out secure network options right here at NCrypt.

Posted in: Security