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In today’s society, it’s mainstream to label in very stark terms. Things are good or evil, black or white, a must-have or never-have. We continue to move farther away from a middle ground where events, people or ideas can be viewed as gray, evolving or simply a product of their own making. We’re getting lost in the message versus making headway with action. 

Big tech is no exception. How often do you hear or read that big tech is evil? More and more, this message is being distributed across media, through government mouthpieces and across a wide range of sectors. And it’s true that the problems we face today tied to privacy were born from the processes and approaches developed by dominant tech companies like Google, Amazon, Meta and Apple. 

These companies with their innovative approaches unlocked a universe of sharing and tracking in the name of progress. They found a way to harness data to grow their businesses, while creating a no-questions-asked society of data sharers. They helped us consumers get comfortable with sharing, without helping us protect ourselves. 

Is this evil? No. Is it wrong? Yes, especially as research continues to prove that having access to everything about us doesn’t make business or the consumer experience better. 


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Putting data back in the hands of the people

Now that so many of us know the system is broken, it is time to change the narrative from good or evil into one of advocacy and action. We need to identify what can be done and who is best suited to do it so that we can start to create the change that we so desperately need. 

Here’s why: The people who created the problem will not be the ones to fix it. Big tech — as the largest contributor of consumer data — has become reliant on a business model where consumers don’t pay for anything and are harvested for all their data.

Users essentially become the product, driving consumer insight and impacting business decisions. Because of this deep level of integration, these players don’t have the incentive nor the capability to fix the problem that they created and have benefited from. 

Today it is up to consumers and emerging companies to move us away from the reliance on personal data harvesting and firmly place control of the data back where it belongs — with the people. 

Consumers stand up and demand control 

Maybe like me, you are starting to see shifts in the choices you have when sharing your information. From all or nothing cookie requests to companies removing guest shopping experiences, we’re being driven into forced choices everywhere. Have you shown up to an empty restaurant lately only to be asked for your telephone number before they’ll seat you? It’s happening.

Simply sharing your details and letting the consequences be what they will be, might seem like the easiest path forward. But it is opening us up to unsolicited communications, potential data breaches and, most importantly, undue influence.

There is a need to educate ourselves on the steps we can employ to take control from big tech and begin to own our identities again. It’s time to take a stand — with our wallets, our actions, and our words — and reimagine how business gets done. 

We no longer know what a world without big tech’s interference looks like. We’ve become so accustomed to giving away our data in daily microtransactions that we’re desensitized to it. Becoming aware of when our data is being collected, why it’s being collected and how it can or will be used in the future is an essential first step. 

Then we must take action to limit our data at the point of collection. Whether this means changing cookie settings, using VPNs and apps to mask your info or taking steps to remove data retroactively, it’s worth the effort. This stops big tech and others from accessing our information in the first place. 

Emerging companies lead with privacy 

If consumers begin to take a stand and industries back these actions with innovation, change is possible. It just can’t be done alone or in a vacuum. We need to rally the next generation of startups to tackle the problem with a consumer-first mindset. One that understands the importance of centralized systems built around privacy — versus privacy as an add-on. 

From the inception of a business, leaders need to determine how much customer data is really needed, and examine alternatives to gathering, storing and using personally identifiable information (PII). In the process, they can develop products and site experiences that make it painless for consumers to hold onto their personal information. Add in regular privacy and security audits to processes, ensuring that third-party vendors share in privacy commitments.

This way, we can begin to make major headway — then turn it into policy. By creating and sharing a privacy policy written with simple language that highlights a reduced data footprint, emerging companies can begin to influence and transform the business landscape to one that values privacy first. 

People and emerging companies can work together 

Gone are the days of profiting off of mass data collection without the consent of the consumer. Now, businesses must hold themselves to a higher consumer-privacy standard, and consumers need to hold businesses accountable.

We have an opportunity to redefine our relationship. We have the opportunity to build a world where trust is inherent and our interactions are reframed with a consumer-first well being, where we look out for each other by being smarter — consumers, marketers, business owners, leaders. 

The dynamic should be one of a partnership founded on respect and consent. Big tech isn’t evil for wanting to use consumer data to further its goals. However, it is antiquated and disconnected, and will need to prioritize people over profit to continue to be relevant as consumers find their voice and emerging brands tackle the necessity of privacy.

Arjun Bhatnagar is CEO of Cloaked.


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