As reported previously here, here, and here, the big guns in the tech industry such as Facebook and Google have been gathering personal information from users of their apps and using that information for their own personal financial gain. Users are often not even aware that their personal information is being collected and used that way. Consumers are, however, becoming more and more knowledgeable about this problem, and they are concerned about their loss of personal privacy.
Not only are consumers growing more concerned about their privacy. The U.S. Government, the European Union and consumer rights groups are also struggling with the issue of how to protect consumers’ privacy.
The recent announcement by heavy-hitters such as Facebook and Google that they will be installing a “Do Not Track” button on their apps does not instill much confidence because their move was voluntarily, and there is no mechanism in place to enforce this.
It is a little known fact that over 580 different technologies are used to track consumers’ personal data. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 73% of those polled object to a search engine’s keeping track of their searches and using it to personalize future searches, claiming that it constitutes an invasion of privacy. The same study revealed that only 38% of the poll’s respondents are generally aware of ways they themselves can limit the extent to which their personal information is collected by a website.
Some companies have stepped into the breach and are offering consumers the tools they need to combat their loss of privacy. For example, the Los Angeles firm CloudCapture and the company Abine have created apps in order to protect users’ personal data. The development of these privacy protection apps is reminiscent of the birth of the anti-virus industry. In the early days of the Web, internet users realized that there were dangerous viruses and malware that could infect their computers’ hard drive. The technology was then created in order to protect consumers’ computers from such harm.
Abine’s app is a play on the “Do Not Track Button” proposed by Facebook and Google. It is called the “Do Not Track Plus” application. The app launched in February. Both Abine’s app and CloudCapture work by blocking automatic tracking of a user’s personal information. Abine and CloudCapture are installed in the user’s browser and automatically block internet companies from tracking. Users can choose when and to whom to provide their data.
Needless to say, data privacy protection is one of the “next big things” in high tech and will be a source of much innovation and debate over the coming years.