In transparency we trust

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

We all know people who are serious sceptics and a touch paranoid when it comes to consumer technology devices.

There’s that person who has a finess tracker but always uses it offline and never connects it to their phone. Those people who won’t store anything in the cloud and prefer to keep their pics, docs and files in physical portable hard drives.  And let’s not forget the people who keep their webcams covered with tape, something Mark Zuckerberg has been known to do.

Are they being pragmatic, prudent and rightfully paranoid? Are the rest of us being naïve, nonchalant or even negligent in regards to the security of our data and personal information? And, if so, what is behind us giving technology companies unfettered access to our homes, cars, bodies and minds?

According to an academic researcher I met who specialises in this area, it is all down to trust. She said: “I think of trust really being a paradigm where a user gives over some information, some knowledge about themselves as an individual and they have a relationship with the manufacturer or the supplier. They understand what that organisation is doing with their data and how it is going to be used. They can be secure in the knowledge that that is going to be looked after and it is not going to be send to third parties without their consent.”

Jellyfish underthe surface of the seaHowever, a complication arises when there is not a shared view on the part of the consumer and the manufacturer or service provider of what is an appropriate way to use customers’ personal data. The researcher went on to say: “Trust is enormously subjective, so my idea of trust will be different to your idea of trust which will be different to any other consumer's idea of trust.”

Transparency in the realationship between the consumer and the manufacturer or service provider is key to generating trust. Customers understand that companies need their data to deliver or enhance the product or service. However, acess to that data is a privilege that should not be abused.

The researcher said: “I generally think about it being a relationship such that there is transparency." When this exists, the individual has control over what's being done with their data or their information, they are clear about the terms and conditions that they're signing, and there are benefits to both parties.

“For the supplier or the manufacturer [access to customer data] means that they can provide a more tailored service, higher levels of personalisation, more specificity, a wider range of services. There's an equation that means that you give your information, but you do that in a way knowing that you have control over what you're giving up,” stated the researcher.

So, while there is understanding among consumers that they need to give something to get something - and when the product is free, they are the product - I feel there should be much more clarity so the deeds and intentions of tech companies are crystal clear and not couched in obtuse, dense language. Until terms and conditions are easy to understand across the board, perhaps it is pragmatic to keep that webcam covered.

 

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