Byte of Life: Our personal data circulates in an underground economy
In 2017, The Economist published an article claiming that oil, the world’s most valuable resource, had been replaced by data. This sentiment has been echoed and exaggerated everywhere. In universities and corporations, “data analyst” is becoming the new hip career. Harvard Business Review even called being a data scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” However, with so many people wanting to become analysts and scientists, we completely ignore one question: who collects all these datasets?
Obtaining “big data” isn’t as simple as sending a Google form to your classmates: it’s collected and processed from the moment you connect to your Wi-Fi and sent whenever you click on a link, connect to a website or interact with a business. Most of the time, we have no choice but to accept a company’s rules, such as the mandatory acceptance of cookies to use its website correctly. Granted, most of this data is not directly harmful, as most of it remains unstructured and unprocessed. However, the problems start when companies start treating data like valuable raw materials that can be leaked, traded, and weaponized.
According to a cybersecurity specialist, our data is exchanged in two main ways: through companies or data analysts, software programmers and criminals, who exchange data “like Pokémon cards”.
Let’s start with the companies. While everyone is familiar with the FAANG companies – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google – many people are unaware of the third-party companies, or “data brokers”, who obtain and sell our data to other companies at commercial purposes.
For example, Acxiom LLC collects information from approximately 68% of the global internet population and sweeps it under the rug. Without the majority of the internet population even realizing it, these data brokers are making millions of dollars selling tracked data.
According to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, data brokers market disturbingly sensitive datasets of personal information, including lists of victims of sexual assault, shelters for victims of domestic violence and people suffering from genetic diseases and addictive behaviors. In addition to these encrypted data sets, data brokers sell information on consumer credit scores, mortgages, and health scores.
In addition, companies interpret this data unfairly. For example, some have used algorithms to sort out qualified candidates in hiring processes. These programs incorporate completely unnecessary features, such as social capital, candidate connections on LinkedIn, and geographic information.
While I support the use of technology that enhances human jobs, companies shouldn’t use pure data as an indicator of a person’s abilities, personality, and potential.
Additionally, criminals trade our data through the big data black market. A study by Google and the University of California, Berkeley found that billions of usernames and passwords are currently at risk and that 1.9 billion of those passwords were obtained through breaches of data by third parties of the companies we have just mentioned.
Alarmingly, these stolen usernames and passwords can be bought as easily and frequently as I buy Pirate’s Booty at Target. Criminals create automated shops where leaked username and password packages can be purchased at varying prices. On these sites, you can literally buy someone’s identity, which is indexed to FICO scores, and much more: reports from Titan HQ, “Diplomas for $100-400… [and] passports are the real prize, fetching up to $2,000.
Although the trafficking of passports in the underground economy of personal data is clearly severe, most people don’t care; specifically, most people don’t to know enough to care. Most people have no choice but to accept the terms of the agreement and hand over their data to the companies.
It’s all encrypted information – but does that mean we should end data science and analytics? Despite the existence of poor data management, I remain an advocate for data-driven decision making. In 2018, California passed the Consumer Privacy Act, along with 25 other states that have adopted data privacy regulations.
While companies are still finding loopholes, I remain optimistic that we will eventually force data oligopolies, such as the oil oligopolies of the past, to fairer standards to get our data for free. Along with the growth of the cybersecurity market, encryption technology is becoming more relevant and will make our interweb travels safer.
Data is here to stay. While the underground market for our information will continue to persist like any market, our generation is the most technologically literate, and I believe the next Internet users will begin to take matters of privacy and security into their own hands. personal data.
Miguel Mercado is a sophomore who writes about the impacts of technology and economics on 21st century students. His column, “Byte of Life,” airs every other Tuesday.