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US citizens believe data collection risks outweigh the benefits

The technology world is becoming increasingly complicated and inaccessible for the majority, so it is of little surprise citizens are focusing on the negative.

A fair assumption is the majority of individuals will mistrust something they do not understand. This is not a new concept and has been evident throughout the centuries, but the technology giants have rarely helped themselves with secretive business models and presenting an incredibly opaque picture for data analysis.

According to the Pew Research Centre, a supposedly politically-neutral US think tank, the majority of US citizens do not trust the new data tsunami which is sweeping through every aspects of our lives.

Private industry Government
The citizen has little control over data collected by… 81% 84%
Risks outweigh the benefits for data collected by… 81% 66%
Concerned about how data is collected by… 79% 64%
The citizen does not know how data is used by… 59% 78%

What this data indicates is a lack of understanding, and perhaps a condemnation of the competency of those in-control of the data to manage it appropriately. This is a significant risk to anyone involved in the newly-flourishing data-sharing economy; if the general public start to push back, success will be difficult to realise.

There are of course numerous elements to consider as to why the US general public is seemingly so set against the data economy. Firstly, perhaps Big Tech has been too mysterious with the way it functions.

Few people genuinely understand the way in which the big data machine works. There might be a basic understanding of the function, purpose and outcome, but Big Tech has been incredibly secretive when it comes to the nitty-gritty details. These are trade secrets after all, the likes of Google would not want to help its rivals in creating better data-churning machines as this would erode any competitive edge. But the general public are also being left in the dark.

This generally doesn’t matter until things start to go wrong, which leads us onto the second point. There have been too many high-profile data breaches or leaks, such as Equifax, or cases where data has been used irresponsibly, Cambridge Analytica for example. When you combine negative outcomes with a lack of understanding of how the machine functions, the general public will start to become uneasy.

In general, more needs to be done to educate on numerous different areas. Firstly, how the data economy functions. Secondly, what rights individuals have to opt-out of data collections. These rights do exist, and the fact the general public is not aware is a failure of the government. Third, the general public should be aware of what is being done today; how data is being collected, stored, analysed and applied. And finally, what the big picture is, how this data can lead to benefits for society and the individual.

The issue which has been raised here is very simple to understand. The general public is beginning to mistrust the digital economy because it is being asked to trust in a mechanism without any explanation. This is a significant challenge and will need to be addressed as soon as possible. Negative ideas have a way of festering when not addressed. More education is needed or there could be resistance to progress further into the digital world.


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