How can consumers take back control of their data?

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By Ankit Chaudhari, CEO and founder of Aiisma, a data management software and hardware company with headquarters in Las Vegas and an office in Sharjah. The Aiisma app allows consumers to sell their data to businesses in a bid to give them greater control over their privacy.

Data management and privacy is a major concern among consumers and governments, highlighted by the introduction of GDPR regulations in Europe, the recent slew of fines slapped on big US name brands for continuous data privacy breaches and the introduction of the personal data protection bill in India.

Consumers are demanding more control over the data they generate, which may include information about what they’re buying, where they’re going and who they’re communicating with. However, the majority of consumers have limited information and knowledge about where their data goes, the use of their data, which businesses are accessing it, how they are using it and most importantly how much value their data represents.

Consumers are beginning to wake up to the value of their personal data. Aiisma has introduced one of the first data exchange ecosystems for consumers and enterprises, enabling consumers to achieve the requested control, privacy, security and, ideally, the opportunity to get rewarded for their data. While businesses gain access to structured and filtered data.

The most significant hurdle for consumers and businesses is the ambiguity of global data protection. While many enterprises consider data protection laws to be too complex, creating challenges for businesses looking to access consumer data, consumers believe the laws are too lenient, not affording them ample protection against invasions of privacy. With so many grey areas, and lack of education, consumers continue to run the risk of being exploited for their data. The amount of data that is collected globally from consumers by organisations is staggering. Large corporations have long benefitted from the informational and monetary value, but consumers have mostly been left out in the cold.

To curb data appropriation, new laws have been introduced in the Middle East. For example, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has its own specific data protection laws and regulations, which are generally consistent with data protection laws from other more developed jurisdictions, such as the European Union’s GDPR. The scope of these stringent regulations covers personal information being processed fairly, lawfully, securely and with a specified and legitimate reason. While there are currently no direct general federal data protection laws in the GCC, enterprises with connections to Europe fall under the umbrella of Europe’s GDPR.

Middle East consumers are savvy; they are beginning to realise their data is a valuable asset, and we are witnessing signs of them wanting greater transparency and control. In exchange for their data, loyalty and trust, GCC companies will need to be more transparent and willing to trade something of value rather than gathering data without consent.

Data monetisation is poised to tip the balance by giving local and global consumers the opportunity to turn their data into money. Aiisma has combined proprietary software and hardware solutions to create a data exchange ecosystem in which consumers are asked before their data is accessed or shared among companies seeking to target you with adverts for products, services and brands. Consumers are given the power to choose exactly what information they are willing to share and are rewarded for it accordingly. Businesses also benefit from the arrangement. The ecosystem provides quality over quantity, so rather than analysing huge volumes of data, companies can access filtered, structured, targeted and consensually-gathered consumer data, which is both relevant and actionable.

Although consumers are becoming more aware of the value their data has, most simply don’t know how much data they are sharing every day. Every photograph shared on social media, every tag or status update gives companies a little more information about consumers. How many times do consumers click on an ‘I Agree’ button just to get to the next page without reading what they are agreeing to? A survey conducted by OnePoll for the Chartered Institute of Marketing in November 2018 found 48 per cent of consumers do not understand how and where organisations are using their personal data. A third of all consumers reported they had received communication from a business they had not given permission to contact them within the month preceding the survey. Although consumers are willing to share their data with companies offering something in return, it is unlikely they would consent to sharing their data with third parties, a common practice that is still prevalent in many countries.

Companies are constantly dipping into our lives, gathering data about who we are, what we do, where we go and who we know. The impact of consumer data being shared ranges from minor infringements, such as your name and number being shared with social media applications, to more significant intrusions, such as data brokers compiling and selling personalised profiles filled with information that has been collected without consent.

New data regulations are clamping down on sharing data with third parties and are imposing stringent fines on those companies found breaching data privacy. As recent scandals hit the front pages, public concerns have heightened about the abuse of personal data, where it goes and how it is used. Consumers are becoming more aware of the downsides and hidden costs of sharing data, leading to a fundamental shift.

However, businesses having access to consumer data needn’t be a negative experience. Enterprises willing to be more transparent can build trust with their consumers. Companies who explain how consumer data is being used and exchange data for something of value, will be rewarded by more consumers willing to share their data with them. Aiisma provides an ecosystem in which this relationship can be fostered. Consent will be gained not through overly-long and complicated terms of service agreements, but through transparency and the provision of mutual benefit.

Ultimately, consumers vote with their wallets and, increasingly, their data. When asked, the majority of consumers say they will not buy products and services from unethical companies. The same will soon be true of consumer decisions regarding companies they are prepared to share their data with. Organisations that are not willing to pay a fair price or misuse data will lose customers and access to information, potentially having a long-term impact on their brand and profitability.

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