What are some of the main issues surrounding privacy and data collection?

With an explosion in data-driven products and services currently taking place, data collection is a topic which has received a substantial amount of media attention in recent years. Whilst some of this coverage has highlighted a handful of the huge benefits of using ethically sourced data across a variety of industries, many articles and news reports choose instead to focus on the negative aspects of this process. In this blog post, we’ll look at some of the key reasons behind existing attitudes towards data collection, and examine whether or not some of these privacy concerns are justified.

One of the most common areas of unease voiced by individuals surrounding data collection is that of privacy. We’re all familiar with highly-publicized exploitative practices harvesting data through unscrupulous means with questionable motives – namely, a handful of social media companies taking advantage of users’ personal data in order to monitor their purchasing behavior and encourage them to buy certain products. This moral blurring of tracking practices is an obvious area of concern, and poses some important questions: are users aware of this, and if they are, do they consent to their data being used in this way?

Concerns about the way in which personal data is used – consensual or otherwise – is also a key stumbling block for data collection. There’s a big difference between using these data anonymously or with discretion in order to provide actionable insights to a medical research and development team and using these data in order to create a profile of a consumer in order to bombard them with targeted advertisements.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2019 suggesting that 81% of participants felt that they had little to no control over how their data was being gathered. Additionally, a further 79% stated that they were either very or somewhat concerned over this data was being used. Given the current state of affairs, these statistics are totally understandable: a lack of clarity surrounding this area is giving individuals every reason to be skeptical. So how can we fix this?

A starting point might to be for firms to be far more transparent about their data collection policies. Obviously, this will affect each organization differently and, depending on the relevant sector, might be easier said than done. Certain users might become acutely aware of the fact that their data is being observed and, as a result, may temporarily change their language or behavior accordingly. Although this might be problematic for a short while, maintaining open and honest communication is something many pharmaceutical organizations are starting to view as a moral obligation – and the alternative might feel slightly questionable given the current cultural moment.

The important thing is to reassure individuals that data collection is not necessarily the boogeyman set out to spy on you and steal all of your private information. When used for the right reasons, data collection and analytics offers huge potential when it comes to solving some of the world’s trickier problems – something an increasing number of companies are starting to realize. By harnessing the power of data collection, machine learning and natural language processing in a responsible and ethical way, we’re opening up a world of possibility in the healthcare sector – with the individual at the center of it all.

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