Why is data protection important?

Why is data protection important?

With all the recent news about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica abusing personal data, you might find yourself wondering what the big deal is. The internet has been around for a while now and we are used to giving over our data to various companies, so what’s the problem? After all, there’s no harm if you’ve got nothing to hide, right?

The truth of the matter is that data is an incredibly valuable asset, and it should be properly guarded. To a company, the right data about customers could help them increase their profits. To a government, data about voters can help them figure out which policies will be popular. When data is used in the right way, it can mean that everyone benefits. In theory.

So where's the problem?
However, there is a fine line between using data to understand what people want, and using it to manipulate people. So what happens when personal data is abused? Suddenly the balance shifts – those making use of the personal data benefit, and the people about whom the data relates lose out. This is clearly not good, yet this practice is becoming more and more common which is why there has been such outrage recently.

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Recent revelations have prompted the #DeleteFacebook movement

For example...
Take this example; a research firm uses personal data to identify who might be likely to react negatively to a specific threat. They then use advertising to target those individuals and make them feel that the threat will affect them (whether it will or not). As a result, they are coerced into voting in a particular way.

The individuals may feel that they have made up their own mind about the perceived threat, but in fact their views have been strategically manipulated and their vote has been bought. The power to decide has been taken away.

Why it matters
Situations like this are becoming alarmingly common, and show why it is vital that data is protected and privacy is not abused. Even if you feel that you have nothing to hide, privacy is still important. Limiting what is known about you allows you to retain control over your life, and therefore limits the power of governments and corporations. It’s the difference between making a decision for yourself and having it made for you – even if it results in the same thing, the distinction is crucial.

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” – Edward Snowden

Becky Cunningham
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