The new oil that offers greater convenience to us, but can also be exploited to manipulate our decision making.

Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created each day. A large percentage of this relates to our personal information and until you stop to actually thing about the number of data points that we create, we give a huge amount of information away for free…

We trade data for convenience – saving passwords in our browsers, sharing our location on our mobile devices, enabling push notifications, or opting in to terms and conditions that we don’t read properly. Giving our data away is incredibly easy and we now need to ask how much of our life is actually “private”?

A report titled Global Citizens and Data Privacy, produced by the World Economic Forum, highlights the widespread lack of knowledge and low levels of trust around the usage of personal data by companies and governments around the globe.

Why is it relevant for us to be conscious of how our data is being utilised? In a world where we spend a large part of time on line and where our attention is in high demand, we shouldn’t blindly be giving things away.

We can use ad blockers for our search engines, so that we aren’t bombarded by adverts or we can use search engines like “Duck Duck go”  (which by the way has an extension you can install on Goolge Chrome).

Blocking ads is only part of the picture though and it is fascinating how it often takes political agendas for platforms to take a stand against the misuse of their interfaces. The Cambridge Analytical debacle in 2016 exposed the scale of the misuse of data and how data on social media platforms can be manipulated to sway public opinion.

It is estimated that over half of the world’s population is on social media. These platforms capture a large percentage of our attention and thus have become an attractive place for advertisers who seek to influence our decisions through the messages they present to us.

Over the last month, two of the most used platforms have differed in their responses on how they plan to deal with political campaigns and advertising as we gear up for the US national elections.

Facebook has taken the stance to allow political ads to run on the platform provided that they comply with a set of policies. Mark Zuckerberg has defended the decision in front of the US congress and advocated the importance of free speech.

While Twitter took the opposite approach and banned all political advertising. How this will be regulated is yet to be seen and I have my reservations around how strict they will actually be able to be. An article featured in The Guardian worded this point well, “Twitter’s ban on political ads is unnecessarily severe and simplistic, disadvantages challengers, and is likely unenforceable – but it was a great PR move for the company, for now.”

Both decisions carry valid reasoning and are of strategic value for the longer term future. How they will be implemented is yet to be seen and digital commentators are offering interesting interpretations.

Here’s a talk that Mark gave around Facebook Standing For Voice and Free Expression at Georgetown university. While Facebook as a platform has created an environment where users have exploited, they have made significant steps to improve the security of the data being process on the platform and the advertising that is presented. You can now see all ads that are being run on Facebook page, full details here.

Our data is precious and we need to be far more conscious of how it is being used. The moderation/approval of the content and advertising on social media platforms is ultimately controlled by the human review panels that are set up to monitor the content. This in its self is an interesting challenge and a point that I need to unpack further. For now though, lets keep an eye on how these tech giants are able to allow our freedom of speech.

As we navigate an increasingly digitally connected world, where our data will play a central role here is something to ponder.

The answer to addiction isn’t sobriety, but rather connection

Ps, you may also enjoy Edward Snowden’s latest book is the “Permanent Record”. I would also recommend checking out the @Freedomofpress on Twitter.