Protecting your personal data

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON FAST BUSINESS, 5 DECEMBER 2014

IT professionals spend the majority of their time ensuring the cyber safety of their employers. However, do they take the same care with their own data and cyber activities? Here are some steps IT managers and business owners can take to ensure they protect their personal data and understand its true worth.


Data has become a commodity. Every moment we spend online, we leave footprints that are converted to data and are sometimes sold to advertising or research firms. A recent report by the Global Direct Marketing Association found that more than 80 per cent of marketers surveyed believed data was important to their marketing and advertising ventures, while 92.2 per cent thought data would play a vital role in the future.

One of the biggest industries of today

According to a study conducted in 2012, the data-driven business of online marketing reached about $62 billion in the United States alone. Globally, it’s a trillion-dollar industry.

The irony in all this is that the actual creators of this commodity don’t have any control, nor are they profiting from the commodity’s whopping market value. These creators are anyone who has been in contact with a digital service – from online shopping and fitness-tracking services to energy providers and banking systems.

A handful of companies are tackling this issue of cyber safety and personal data privacy through some very high-level encryption. Personal, a cloud storage service, stores digital information and passwords with the same level of encryption used by banks, as does FileThis, which imports and stores your bills and statements to a local hard drive or cloud service. Search engine DuckDuckGo gives you the same answers as Google – without the tracking.

Some companies have approached the data privacy space by facilitating the collection of existing online data so users can glean insight from their own behaviours. SocialSafe saves a copy of all your social media posts and photos to a local hard drive. The company has plans to integrate with fitness, financial and retail outlets, and to include location check-ins, music-listening habits, and ‘quantified-self’ data.

Other organisations are taking it a step further by allowing users to get a piece of the action. A global initiative called the Respect Network enables individuals to not only protect their private information, but also profit from it. If data is such a valuable asset, why shouldn’t the original owners of the data be able to participate in its market exchange and get in on the profits?

A new way to protect your data

Australian startup Meeco is a convenient way to use the internet with more privacy, collect and own your personal data, and reduce your digital footprint. It gives you the power to capture your personal data and turn it into insight. The idea is to create a widespread scenario where data is solely held and owned by the individuals themselves, and said individual could sell selected data to specific companies, cutting out the middleman: data brokers.

Katryna Dow, founder and CEO of Meeco, was inspired by Minority Report, which was the basis for Meeco’s concept. As digital technology and surveillance techniques became more prevalent and invasive, Dow noticed growing concern for the erosion of personal privacy, the emergence of data brokerages and how big data would affect our daily lives.

“While the inspiration for Meeco began some time ago, we are now reaching a tipping point where everyone and everything is becoming a source of real-time, deep data,” Dow says. “People are beginning to realise the value in their personal data and are demanding greater control and transparency. As a result, we expect to see businesses offering greater transparency and access to personal data as a core part of the value proposition.”

People want the power

Dow recognises the impact she’s making.

“We are starting to see a generational shift, not so much towards privacy, but towards younger people understanding the value of their data and therefore being more circumspect in what they reveal. We believe that personal data is the most valuable when it is accurate, in context, up to date and it has the owners’ intentions. The intention economy will require brands and businesses to be able to specifically tailor experiences and products for the customer and then maintain an ongoing exchange of value. A shared value economy benefits everyone.”

Cyber safety and privacy services, like the ones mentioned above, are bound to disrupt the current data-driven market trend, and the economy at large.

To find out more about data security for your business, download a free ebook at Fast Business.