What is the true cost of a free service?

Nothing in life is free, least of all an internet service or social media platform. That was the summary finding reached by our discussion that explored personal data. To begin with we focussed on the apparent inadequacy of many data protection policies:

· Despite promising to protect users’ data, services seem to regularly harvest – and possibly sell – people’s information. · What happens if a social media platform is sold or merged with a competitor? Will the original agreement be honoured? · People are generally very mistrustful of large global companies and how they handle data. · Should we have the right to be forgotten or to have our data deleted permanently from the internet?

Despite these concerns, the discussion circled next around the idea of user apathy. Do people really care if their data is being somehow misused? And, even if people appreciate something of their data’s value, might they still continue to turn a blind eye to possible abuses if the service they receive continues to grow and improve?

We discussed the global nature of data, data doesn’t just stay still and dwell quietly in its country of origin. Quite the opposite. Data now crosses geographic and legislative boundaries. As it moves, more companies, governments and organisations may see it – particularly if it enters geographies where legal protection is lacking.

In conclusion, the conversation circled around the need for openness. The more open organisations are about their policies and motives, the more likely people are to trust them.

Posted by Stephen Nicholas Ironmonger on 13th Dec 2016
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Comments (9)

David Sturt

18 May 2018

As Olivia Tan trust is important factor in people's assessment of the cost of a "free" service. I have seen differences across cultures with respect to sharing and trust, with people in the USA less likely to trust government than people in the the EU. There are also very different attitudes to sharing different types of information, e.g. a video record is unacceptable but a full GPS track from your smart phone is fine (or not as the case may be).

So although there is a price to free services it can be difficult to work out what it is.

Stephen Paul Boronski

08 March 2017

I think people don't see google etc as "misusing" their data, they see it as helping them find what they want and opening new doors to the products and services they require etc.

Stephen Nicholas Ironmonger

03 January 2017

As has been pointed out, different age groups have a very different view on data security, although this may change as incidents occur and get publicised. But I expect the level of data held on us is only going to increase, and the level of linking, aggregation will increase. The fact that the organisations that hold the data are profit driven is going to keep forcing this forward. What should we (IT professionals) do? Educate - to raise awareness, yes. But also, work to ensure that correct standards are in place and adhered to by organisations. When should an IT Pro 'blow the whistle' on bad practise, and who to? Should BCS operate a whistle blowing service? Key standards in this area are those around data security - making sure data is accurate and up to date; transparency - that we can 'see' what is held against our ID; the right to have obsolete data removed; the right to have 'bad' data corrected. What rights should an individual have to ensure that their data is adequately protected ? should I be able to ask, say Google, what measures (and in what detail) they have in place to stop my data being used for purposes I have not approved of? how is GDPR going to change what we do? lots of questions, thath only tiem will fully answer.

Mathivathanan Thangathurai

21 December 2016

Again a very relevant link to the subject discussed Privacy Groups Complain to FCC Over Google Policy Change

Mathivathanan Thangathurai

21 December 2016

Yes i do agree with the cost of privacy while accessing the free services such as mails and social media platforms. But we are aware that these entities are not non-profit organization. How do they cover up their cost of operation? only the sponsor links and advertisements are adequate for feeding the employees and the machines they have? Maintenance and regulating the quality of service they have costs them a lot. So we should be aware that what sort of information we are giving away and does it going to really bother us later? or general people should be educated of this. It does really make sense that they give us just because to get something back from us directly or indirectly . Yes! it is kind of a trade, so we must ensure a win-win deal on this. Finally, could you even imagine worldwide web service with out GOOGLE? Not at all. So we must encourage these incomparable service providers in a controlled manner.

Peter Robert Stockdale

20 December 2016

Understanding and seeing what services such as those offered by Google cost for my privacy was an eye opener. Visiting my activity Google shows so much information they store about you and for you. As I have two android devices that amount of information is not insignificant.

The desire to have apps sharing data on devices further increases the potential for harvesting data. Up to now this hasn't been used to my disadvatage, that I know of, other than the slight annoyance of marketing. But could it be used differently in the future, could my life insurance be impacted by my diet and fitness choices as recorded somewhere?

You could always read all the agreements for all the different web providers. You just need to find the time, about 76 working days each year.

Reference source -- http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/reading-the-privacy-policies-you-encounter-in-a-year-would-take-76-work-days/253851/

Olivia Tan

14 December 2016

This came up at the BCS Voices in South Wales too - here's a summary of this part of the discussion...Overall people were happier sharing data with GP’s and government than with banks and retailers. It’s a great thing to share your health data, for example if you’re at the dentist and need a shot of Novocaine it’s great for the dentist to be able to see your GP records to see you don’t have an allergy to the drug. It’s looking pretty gloomy – as IT professionals people felt it was hard to have faith in data sharing – there’s so much spam and criminal agencies using the data, and the internet of things means the roll out of many insecure devices. Also, it was mentioned that IT professionals understand the deeper workings of this data sharing and so understand that, for example, supermarket loyalty cards, are tracking your buying habits, your travel habits etc. But do we mind? Perhaps not, but it was discussed that actually people outside of the profession may have no idea that this is happening and perhaps need to be educated so they can make a conscious choice as to whether to opt into this. An example was given of a father finding out his teenage daughter was pregnant before she told him - via superstores targeted advertising. In fact, it was agreed that Google knows more about us than our spouse does – our location, mood etc. is all available through social networks. For example, with Map My Run/Wearable tech, GPS can track that someone starts their run at a certain point, at a certain time every day, and they’re running for 30 mins, and ending at the same place – so it’s easy to work out where they live. This leaves a 30-minute open window for people to be robbed. However, this can also be used for positive, such as Facebook’s ‘marked as safe’ disaster response feature. This discussion concluded that data sharing can be a very positive thing – depending on whose hands the data is in. It’s about trust, and companies proving themselves to be trustworthy.

Brian Andrew Runciman

14 December 2016

@Greg - 'payment is an alien concept to the young' is a very good way of putting it. Perhaps one of our roles at BCS should be to highlight that 'payment' is not only a fiscal consideration.

Greg Newman

13 December 2016

This is a really interesting subject that will probably elicit different reactions based on age. I know that I value my personal data far more than my kids do theirs,because I remember a time when I felt I was in control of it. Even though I care about my data I'm still happy to let Google to seemingly know everything about my life; what i search for; what look at; where I am; what my plans are; as I believe I understand why Google wants this data and its a price worth paying for the enhancements that Google can make to my daily experiences. I'm less comfortable with companies like Facebook, making the collection of our data behind interactivity. I've asked a number of friends and family why they Like something and they all think thy are giving a positive message to their Facebook friend and have no concept that Facebook is using your likes to create a picture of you so that it can wrap you in it's filter bubble. As for my kids they seem to have no care about their data and if it's the price to pay for a free service then they will think that's good value. Whereas I would happily pay a subscription for the use of a good application, payment is an alien concept to the young.