As the practices of data brokers emerge from the shadows and perceptions of their ways take root, a growing number of consumers are taking action to reclaim their online identities. Oddly enough in this increasingly social and interconnected world, there is a new alternative aspiration to share nothing or as little as possible about ourselves.
The past decade of an almost unavoidably pervasive social media machine has created a complex cycle of cause and effect. Early naysayers have become evangelists or outright addicts and vice versa as privacy controls, security and the sociological implications of an always-on world come home to roost.
What began as a teenage- to 20-something phenomenon has quickly grown into a massive digital repository that reflects on our modern culture at its best and worst. Only recently, now that the seemingly senseless act of sharing private details or our inner-most thoughts has become second nature, has public opinion begun to shift to a more inquisitive and mindful attitude.
Social media doesn't carry all the blame or weight for these changes, though. Because commerce, communications, education and so many other life-changing services are moving online, consumers are simply following the action and gaining conveniences in the process.
"There isn't a concern about how to protect yourself because we make sure businesses are always doing the right thing to begin with." — Rachel Thomas, Direct Marketing Association
Relatively few consumers would willingly give up their smartphones or any must-have service supported by advertising, but more consumers are beginning to question the limits of advertising when it crosses personal values in an unreasonable or downright abhorrent manner. These thoughts and reactions are festering as even more Americans question the legitimacy of a society already under heavy surveillance by its own government.
The Chaos of Opting Out
Living a genuinely private life in today's world requires an equal measure of patience, research and ingenuity. Just ask investigative journalist Julia Angwin who's made it her mission of late to reclaim her identity and not share it with any entity.
As detailed in a recent feature from CBS' news magazine "60 Minutes," Angwin spent a month finding and opting out of the 200-plus data brokers that held information on her. Oftentimes she was required to provide even more information about herself before these data brokers enabled her to opt out. "It kind of felt like a bribe where I had to give this information in the hopes of getting my information back," she tells CBS.
Large data collection firms like Epsilon informed her it would take a couple months to have her data removed and if any of that information was previously shared with other data brokers she would have to contact them directly.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.