"The average person doesn't realise that at least 80 per cent of what they do [online] every day is actually tracked," says Katryna Dow, CEO at Meeco, a developer of a life management platform.
Dow is probably right. Governments, telecommunications providers, social media sites, and data brokers are violating our privacy and information is being used without our permission.
Some are even trying to manipulate our emotions. Facebook earlier this week defended conducting a psychology experiment on its users where it used an algorithm to manipulate content in the news feed of almost 700,000 users.
Dow says many people don't understand what they might be able to do about how companies use their information and they don't realise there may be an economic impact from these data collection activities.
"Or in fact that the information that is collected in one way may disadvantage them in another," Dow says.
As an example, Dow cited an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last year that revealed supermarket chain Woolworths had passed grocery basket information across to its insurance subsidiary to determine the insurance risk of its shoppers.
"So what may appear as a discount from one service provider ends up being an increased cost from another ... and that's not what's made obvious."
"As soon as you get access to free services, quite often it's because the data or the terms and conditions that you have agreed to can be equal or far outweigh any benefits that seem to on offer," Dow says.
Dow's Meeco is part of a new global movement of organisations that are promising to give users back control of their data and restore privacy on the Internet.
The company is also a founding partner of Respect Network, a global network for trusted private data sharing, which will launch in Australia next week. It promises users — who pay US$25 — their own personal cloud, a single sign on for services without them being tracked, largely for targeted advertising.
The fundamental idea behind a personal cloud is that data saved at a service provider is controlled and owned by the individual user. It's encrypted so no one can read it, and it's not available for social media providers and other organisations to mine and sell to other companies, Dow says.
"You have total sovereignty that information and that's what will lead to new forms of value.
"Imagine if you have got relevant information to an insurance company — and you are the most accurate source of that — all of a sudden it puts you in a powerful position if you want to exchange that information as opposed to how it is collected right now."
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