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Why don’t we value our personal data online?

By Rosa Sánchez Guerrero, Telefonica Millennial Leader, Spain

Online privacyIt’s an important moment in history for privacy on the Internet. Social networks and modern web platforms are increasing human interactions online and more traditional information streams are handling huge amounts of our personal data.

Due to volume, information is stored locally and/or fetched from third parties using cross domain services. With more platforms managing these types of data transactions, privacy has become paramount and the laws instituted to regulate the Internet need to be airtight.

In this context, we can’t underestimate the value placed on our personal data and need to appreciate why privacy is an essential part of our lives both on and offline.

To the individual, privacy is more than keeping sensitive information hidden. The identities we have developed online are complex and becoming increasingly important to us. At times, we look for complete anonymity and at others, we change our digital personalities depending on who we’re interacting with. For many, full disclosure of our digital selves would be unthinkable.

Indeed, insights from the latest Global Millennial Survey (GMS) found some 89% of millennials (those aged 18-30) agree at least somewhat that they are concerned about the security and privacy of their data online, and 80% agree that they are worried about someone stealing their information online. However, the GMS also found that over 60% of millennials felt comfortable giving companies access to personal data if they use it to create personalised offers or better value for them as a customer.

Unfortunately, user’s interests are not necessarily respected as service platforms (social networks, storage clouds, voice-over-web, instant messengers etc) and third parties both benefit from information exchange. Trust relationships between service platforms and third parties are quite opaque, being possible to expose users’ profiles to third party services which are totally unknown to users. Besides, terms of service often require from users to provide full control of their personal information, giving to third parties the freedom to do whatever they want with them.

It may surprise you then, as it did me, that apparently, 75% of millennials surveyed in the GMS felt they fully understood the types of information and data that companies collected and shared about them.

I would question whether, given the complexity of this issue, millennials really know to what extent their data is secure. As an engineer and from studying privacy during my Masters, I can tell you that the behaviours of millennials online is in direct contrast to this statistic. In Spain, for example, 7 in 10 users stopped surfing the Internet at some point due to issues around privacy and the percentages are similar for other European countries.

So what can be done to change this?

We need to establish initiatives that adjust to the technical expertise of each individual and drive privacy-enhanced user profile management. One way we’re doing this at Telefonica is through O2’s Guru Bytes programme, which invites entire families into stores to learn how to set up safety features, how to keep information private and where to go for help if things go wrong. In addition, participants are being encouraged to bring phones, laptops or tablets for O2 Gurus to practically demonstrate safety tips.

Although such steps will strengthen our defences, it’s difficult to ensure that everyone has an unheeded experience online. Improving one’s own Web literacy and giving people the skills necessary in helping to shape the digital landscape around them is a far more effective weapon in safeguarding the Internet for all users.

For more millennial insights, visit Survey.Telefonica.com and interact on Twitter via #TefMillennials.