It makes sense to be protective of our possessions.

But what about intangible possessions like data?

People all around the world are increasingly becoming more and more protective over their personal data, with the underlying sentiment of “why should someone else profit off of information about me?”

Today, there’s one key problem that’s stirring up the data privacy world, and that’s who owns user data?

In actual fact, data doesn’t belong to someone just because it’s about them.

So even though you might not own your data, do you still have power over it?

That’s where the tides are changing.

We only have to look at the likes of Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn to know that data privacy has, for all intents and purposes, blown up in the last few years. These networks all keep tabs on who we are, what we do, and how we behave online in order to “better serve us”.

But is this a ploy for something else? Something more sinister?

The number of social media users has consistently increased every year since 2010.

There are plenty of people out there that believe big data is being used to drum up personalized political propaganda, to infiltrate our rational minds and change how we think and vote.

Seems absurd, right?

In fact, this was hinted at during both the US election and the EU referendum. A series of articles claimed that a company called Cambridge Analytical swayed both major political events by mining people’s data from Facebook, using it to predict their personalities, and serving up ads tailored specifically to them.

This might sound like something out of a dystopian novel, but there are a lot of people out there who believe it is happening right now and on a much deeper level than we could ever imagine.

Which is why the answer to who has the power over our data might well be changing.

You see, the concept of “data” is evolving every day.

The online world has changed the landscape of pretty much everything, and, in the great scheme of things, it’s still in the teething stage.

Between copyright and privacy laws, there’s this new idea we’ve been tricked into believing along the way – that there’s such a thing as data ownership.

But, if data isn’t necessarily owned by anyone, who has power over it?

Companies Are Being Called Out

With more and more consumers aware that their data is being collected and used in weird and wonderful ways, there’s a new revolution taking hold of the world – one that calls out companies for sneakily using information.

Plenty of online brands, social media platforms, and app makers have been called out for the amount of data they collect and what they use it for.

For many, the main aim is to get to know you better in order to sell you more.

Seems legit, right?

But where’s the line between getting to know your customers and using the information you have about them to make more money?

That’s where the shadiness comes into play.

For example, Uber has been forced into changing their app because of public outcry over their data privacy concerns. Also AccuWeather hit the headlines amidst a furious backlash when users realized the app was tracking their whereabouts without their permission.

We see it in action every day.

One minute you’re booking a flight to the Bahamas, and the next minute you’re being served ads about accommodation, restaurants, and everything else in the Bahamas.

From a business perspective, it’s mind-blowing. From a consumer perspective it’s also mind-blowing, but in a much, much creepier way.

And this is why consumers are starting to fight back.

This recent calling out of companies that have been using data to do all sorts of questionable acts raises the question of whether it’s the companies that have power over the data, or the consumers themselves.

“Do companies have power over user data, or do the users themselves?”

Because if the companies are having to switch up their data privacy policies when consumers call them out, did they really have control of it in the first place?

If we peel away the layers, there are three main happenings that show the tides are changing when it comes to data privacy and power.

1. Users Are Increasingly In-The-Know

Consumers are now more aware than ever that their data is being used for all different reasons – and they’re starting to agree that it’s a creepy practice.

What once was a blasé attitude towards data privacy has shifted now that consumers are realizing most of the major brands they use on a daily basis are mining their information and using it for their own gain.

Internet users are savvier than ever, and they’re not happy about this.

2. Consumers Are Demanding Protection

After the initial realization that brands were collecting their information, there was a wave of unease that swept around the world.

Amongst the mumblings were calls for online services to better protect our data. The idea was to show them “we know what you’re doing and we want you to stop.”

3. Users No Longer Blindly Trust Brands

Consumers are more active than ever in choosing which brands they buy from, which apps they use, and where they spend their time online – and this transfers to them being more active when it comes to who has control of their data.

Rather than sitting back and letting brands do what they want with their information, consumers are standing up and making their voices heard to show companies that their data isn’t something to be used as a marketing ploy.

The GDPR is Coming

Almost in response to the outcry from consumers, the GDPR (or, the General Data Protection Regulation) is coming into play in Europe in May 2018.

This new policy will force companies operating in Europe to protect user data by requiring explicit approval before they do anything with it in any capacity.

Say goodbye to hidden data harvesting practices.

With this drastic shakeup of the data protection world on the horizon, the question about power is raised again.

Is the GDPR coming into play because of the drama the data privacy world has seen recently?

And, perhaps more importantly, will it put the power directly into the hands of consumers?

The Arrival of Blockchain Technologies and What They Mean for Data Privacy

Alongside the data privacy revolution and the imminent introduction of the GDPR in Europe, there’s been another newsworthy arrival in the online world – blockchain technologies.

This new way of storing information is used for Bitcoin transfers and other cryptocurrency transactions. And, for the most part, it’s completely anonymous.

But what does this mean for data privacy?

There are three key reasons this new type of technology could dramatically affect the collection, mining, and use of consumer data.

1. Blockchains Are Decentralized and Distributed

At the moment, various different third parties process personal data, all of which are centralized.

This means that there is just one place for things to go wrong.

Think about all the data attacks recently. Leaks of huge quantities of data happen more regularly than is comfortable, with cybercrime hitting large institutions that centralize their data – we’re talking hospitals, government departments, and email service providers.

Blockchains don’t hold data in one designated place. Instead, it is spread out amongst users, making an attack considerably more difficult.

2. Blockchains Are Public and Transparent

Currently, we have absolutely no effective control over who processes our data and how they do that. When that information is transferred, the user gets increasingly removed from how it is being used.

Blockchains, on the other hand, are very public and very transparent, allowing consumers to know exactly where their information is and who is using it for what purposes.

3. Blockchains Are Very Safe

It might seem strange for a completely online, distributed entity to be deemed “safe”, but blockchains employ a specific kind of technology that makes them incredibly secure.

They implement cryptography, which includes signatures, encryption, and time-stamping, as well as economic incentives for entities that host networks. This makes them a secure place to store and manage information – well, more safe and secure than the way data is currently held.

Yes, But What About Data Privacy….?

Blockchains might just mean a new era of data privacy, where information is not stored in one singular place and isn’t hidden away and sneakily used by businesses for their own gain.

The open nature of it means everyone can see where their data is being used, and there’s less chance of a data breach because it’s not held by one single entity.

It would be wrong to assume that blockchain technologies came about because of the data privacy revolution. In fact, they’ve been a long time coming, but it just so happens that their impact on who holds the power when it comes to data means the landscape of privacy will change.

Whether that’s for the better is still not known.

Who Has the Power?

It’s easy to assume that companies have the power over user data because they’re the ones collecting it and using it.

But we just have to look at the rising revolution of consumers who are calling out companies that are using their data for their own gain to realize that it might not be as clear cut as that.

Then, with the emergence of blockchain technologies, the question of power is shaken up again. This move towards an open, more-accessible and transparent way to store data can only mean that brands are losing their grip on sneaky harvesting techniques that have caused the most concern.

When you look at it this way, it seems the consumer is driving the power, doesn’t it?

They’re the ones forcing brands to change their privacy policies. They’re the ones raising their voices and causing a commotion – and rightly so.

And, with the European GDPR set to come into play next year, it looks like the power will fall even more into the hands of the people.

The question is, will the US follow suit and put up similar laws to protect the people? Consumers can only hope they will.