Jedi knights of online privacy strike back at data-mining empires
Firms such as CloudCapture, which launched Wednesday, and Abine, which debuted its 'Do Not Track Plus' app in February, see a ripe opportunity to turn the technology developed to mine personal data into a tool consumers can use to fight its abuse.
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More than 580 different technologies are being used to track personal data, he notes. Indeed, 73 percent of people using the Internet consider it an invasion of privacy for a search engine to keep track of searches and use that information to personalize future search results, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center released this past week. Only 38 percent of the poll’s respondents had a general idea of what to do about data about them being collected online.Skip to next paragraph
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“Consumers are beginning to understand they need to address the issue,” Kerrigan says.
Abine’s new app and the newly launched CloudCapture focus on blocking automatic tracking and finding ways to give control back to the user.
“CloudCapture’s mantra is Block, Capture, Control,” says founder Alex Huf. “Now that they've been educated, it's time for users to take control without waiting for governments to do it for them.”
Both Abine and CloudCapture are installed in the user’s Internet browser and automatically block all online companies from tracking. Users can decide when and where to give out data.
However, “most consumers don’t understand the value of their personal data, and will willingly give up much in exchange for a quick return,” says Joseph Turow, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and associate dean for Graduate Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“We have to understand this from the perspective of the beginning of a century of big data,” he says, noting that it is not enough to simply put up intermediary companies. “People have to begin to engage with this issue and understand it, because data is the oxygen of the Internet,” he says, adding with a rueful laugh, “and if we don’t fully understand this it could suffocate us.”
Changing the paradigm is the beginning of understanding, says Huf.
“The embrace of disruption has always been part of our technology culture,” he says. “CloudCapture continues that trend by disrupting a monopoly the largest companies have on user data. It empowers the user to turn the tables and force everyone else to play by new rules.”
“Would you stand in the middle of a ball field and use a megaphone to announce your last night’s drinking frenzy? Probably not,” he says via e-mail. Why would you do the same on a social media site? he asks. The issue is that “the user often forgets that what masquerades as 'interpersonal communication' is bordering on 'mass communication.' ”
In the end, he notes, “we need to be responsible for what we say and take the consequences of what we have said. Tools are mere software machines; we are the creators of the discourse.”
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