By Tommy Weir, Special to Gulf News
Remember the Cambridge Analytica data scandal? Of course you do.
In fact, you may count among the army of Facebook users who were outraged to learn that the British political consulting firm had been harvesting personal data from Facebook profiles without their owners’ consent (I use the term “owner” loosely here). It was a scandal all right, but I have a question: Were users angry that their data had been commandeered, or was it the fact that they had been blissfully unaware that upset them most?
Think about it: Had the scandal never reached the public domain, Facebook’s 2.14 billion users would still be none the wiser. Would their lives be affected? No.
Not for a minute am I endorsing the theft of data for political or financial gain. Rather, the point I am trying to make is that the problem appears to be less about the use of our data and more about consent. We like to be asked first, and if it’s in exchange for a service we crave, then nine times out of ten, we readily say “yes”.
Take social media. We have grown accustomed to offering up personal information left, right and centre, because it suits us to do so. People want to have access to that world, and we largely accept that handing over a little bit of ourselves is the price we pay. Let’s not pretend that we really care what happens to our vital statistics next.
How many times have you ticked the T & Cs box on a website? A better question: How many times have you decided not to, giving up the opportunity to access whatever service those terms are attached to? I suspect the answer to that is never, or rarely at best.
Let us not even start on the topic of how many people take the time to actually read the terms and conditions. That we are forced to scroll down the page and “click” our consent is inconvenience enough.
Judging by the fact that Facebook (and others) still attract users in their billions, it seems fair to conclude that despite our initial protests, we are ultimately OK with social platforms allowing user data to be siphoned off and tracking far more elements of our daily lives than we care to admit, without explicit consent.
Still sticking to digital
Now let’s contrast that with the question of data privacy in the workplace, where employers ask employees for permission to access their workplace data, explain openly what it will be used for, and demonstrate how data-sharing can benefit all concerned. Oh, and there’s an added bonus, in that your personal information won’t be sold to a third party for consumption by complete strangers. (If it is, then consider changing jobs!) Now doesn’t that sound like privacy paradise? Maybe so, but, ludicrously, people by and large seem far more comfortable with the Facebook model of “click” and let them collect.
The human need for privacy is natural to all of us, but it’s time to really think about the way we approach it. If a doctor asks you for your medical history in order to treat you appropriately, it would be madness to decline.
Similarly, if your company asks you to share some important information that could help to remove bias in the workplace, reward you based on merit and motivate you to further your career, it’s hard to see why you would say “No”.
As harsh as it may sound, the company you work for doesn’t care much for the intricate details of your personal life. Believe it or not, your employer craves your data so that it can work to make you and the firm the best they can be. It’s as simple as that.
You have probably never thought of it this way, but sharing data with your employer can empower you in return. Sharing data with faceless online platforms will only leave the power in one pair of hands. Believe me, they won’t be yours.
Tommy Weir is the CEO of enaible: AI-powered Leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.