Data collection and distribution is rapidly becoming one of the hottest topics in privacy and security conversations. Several articles covering data collection and use focus on the negative aspect of the overwhelming availability of our personal data, and rightly so. Facebook is known to track user activity while online for as long as the user is logged in, even after the user closes the Facebook tab itself, and some apps openly request the ability to track what apps you have open on your phone or even who you’re on the phone with when you’re on the phone.
Governments are starting to take notice of the data that exists in and around online spaces like Yelp, Google Reviews and, of course, Facebook. Recently there have been discussions on how the data collected in these areas can be used to improve the quality of services, or to ensure that businesses are operating on a level that is compliant with whatever licenses and standards that are in place. New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago are among the list of cities who have started tracking the number of online complaints that include bedbug reports in hotels, roach reports at restaurants, and even negative reports about public restrooms. This information is currently compiled by the city, and the information is not available as a compilation to individual companies, which means that the yelp review about the bug in your soup might lead to a food safety inspection. With programs like this, governments are able to use the data that people eagerly generate to help maintain the operational standards of the businesses that might have been overlooked in the past.
On the same topic, cities have come under fire in the past for the mismanagement of the data that is collects on its residents. Austin was recently responsible for releasing the social security numbers of over 600 property owners to a local television station as part of an unrelated advertising information request. One of the primary issues with this type of data sharing is that people have little to no control over what their city does with the information it has on hand. Often this comes from the fact that people are not even aware that a company or organization possesses their personal information in the first place.
With the widespread availability of so much of our data, it’s not all that surprising to learn that there are companies whose only function is to buy and sell that data to corporations for use in advertising. It can feel a little invasive, which has lead to the creation of companies who exist to erase an online presence upon request, for a fee. A personal image or brand has become the goal for a large portion of individuals hoping to control the data that is easily available, often in hopes that a company will be satisfied with the first set of data provided.