This is a new world we are stepping in to. In the analog world, when someone offered you a freebie along with whatever you bought, the relationship ended there. The consumer remained an anonymous entity that was always out of reach. If someone managed to get hold of your home address, they sent coupons or persuasive letters by snail mail. The consumer was free to discard all the unopened packages to the dustbin.
225 million Indians are on social media platforms and 1 out of 4 Indians is on the Net, according to Statista. With the rise of cheap data, we are surfing more and leaving more details about us every time we visit a site. Facebook and WhatsApp know more about you than your friends and family. With each “like” button you clicked, with each photo you posted, you told Facebook about yourself and your friends.
So when someone tags a photo of someone who is not on Facebook, that person’s face enters the database of millions of faces. In 2012, Facebook bought the Israeli company Face.com for $55-60 million. They bought RealFace, another startup in the same area in 2017. According to New York Times, Facebook’s user data extends far beyond the basic biographical information that most share. Facebook also tracks users on other sites and apps, collects so-called biometric facial data and sells it to marketers. Details that people often readily volunteer — age, employer, relationship status, likes, and location — are just the start. With digital storage becoming ever cheaper, companies often keep many databases.
The combination of behavioral science and data science creates a deadly that goes far beyond what people can comprehend
Facebook tracks both its users and nonusers on other sites and apps. It collects biometric facial data without users’ explicit ìopt-inî consent. According to The Guardian, "if you were to sign up for the first time to Facebook right now, it would already know who all your friends are ñ thanks to Facebook slurping your friendsí full address book from their phones, photos, and other data sources."
The secrets your employer knows
Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook (to name but a few) have put face recognition at the center of their business growth strategy. When Internet users venture to other sites, Facebook can still monitor what they are doing with software like its ubiquitous “Like” and “Share” buttons, and something called Facebook Pixel — an invisible code that’s dropped onto the other website and allows that site and Facebook to track user activity.
Several Talent Acquisition startups offer to scrape publicly available data about possible candidates to predict their likelihood of taking up a job offer with a specific company. They weed out candidates who may have shared racial jokes and objectionable content with their friends on social media. All this is already available to any employer if they want.
Eager to be employed, most candidates will volunteer more information that may be healthy. Face recognition software can identify you in a rally of thousands protesting against a cause your employer supports. Does your employer need to know your political leanings or sexual preferences? Recently, Grindr data on HIV status of its members was leaked to third parties. The reality is that anyone could know much more about you for a small fee.
Time for a #MyData movement
In 2006, Tarana Burke coined the phrase "Me Too" as a way to help women who had survived sexual violence. Fast-forward to more than 10 years later, the phrase has been reignited as the slogan of the anti-sexual harassment movement. Is it time to start a #MyData movement to give people the ownership of the data they create? Or to give consent to anyone seeking their data? Mastercard, for instance, has built portals for cardholders to check what data are being kept.
The combination of behavioral science and data science creates a deadly combination that goes far beyond what people can comprehend. Dopamine Labs has an “API that enables developers to reinforce users for their applications. The API enables an application to hack user engagement and retention using models from neuroscience to tell that application when to reinforce a user at that moment.” In plain English, it means that they have a way of getting you addicted to a site or service by triggering the pleasure neurons. When you post a photo on Facebook you expect people to notice it. Whenever someone presses the “like” button, the dopamine rush prompts you to keep checking how many more people have appreciated your photo. People have no idea how they can be nudged and manipulated in the digital world. Here is what I propose the #MyData movement should push for:
- When firms launch a new offering, they may have to ask people again whether they can use their information even if they have already stored it.
- The individual holds the right to revoke access at any time without assigning any reason.
- When an employee leaves an employer, they get the right to carry their data away from the employer. The employee gets the right to refuse or disclose any data to their employer without fear of discrimination and retaliation.
- All consent for data usage will be given for a time period to be decided by the individual whose data is being sought.
- The individual must have the right to know what kind of use the data is being put for. Long winded legalese filled agreements do not count.
While we are drafting how data collected from the consumers will be used, it is more important to think about the rights of employees.
Maybe it is time for ‘right to privacy’ to be treated as a 'human right' by the employers. Maybe that will bring the human into Human Resources.