Do internet users really care about sharing their data?

Do internet users really care about sharing their data?

A cursory glance at the ‘your map’ feature in Google Photos demonstrates – once again – the sheer volume (and therefore value) of the information I give away every day to Google.  As a regular user of Google’s Maps, Photos, Search, Music, Wallet and YouTube, Google knows an incredible amount of valuable data about me, which it sells in exchange for my free and unlimited use of these services.

A change of monetisation

While Alphabet – Google’s parent company – is hardly struggling (revenues of $69 billion in Q3 2022) the company has disappointed market expectation in 2022 and growth is slowing.  As the world heads into an economic downturn and becomes more conscious of the trade-off between privacy and convenience, several new platforms are looking to turn the Google revenue model on its head.

WeAre8, a social network that aims to pay users to watch advertisements, was one of the first movers in this market.  And now there are reports of a new app called Caden looking to enter the market in 2023.

Caden wants to pay people up to $50 per month to share their interests and data – once again igniting the issues around whether users really understand the volume of data they are sharing online.

Firstborn anyone?

This is not new territory.  In 2014, security company F-Secure famously created a ‘Herod clause’ and inserted it into the terms and conditions that users had to agree to for access to free Wi-Fi in venues in London.  The clause – which saw Wi-Fi users sign up to a term stating ‘the recipient agrees to assign their first-born child to us for the duration of eternity’ – was a publicity stunt to demonstrate how little attention the public pays to the terms they accept to access digital services.

Last year, Apple introduced new privacy rules around data sharing with apps, which had a major impact on the effectiveness of social media advertising. Google itself tried to kill off cookies on Chrome in 2020 and is still committed to finding new and more private ways to share personal data with advertisers.  It seems every major technology company is trying to find new ways to protect privacy and monetise content consumption. But do consumers care?

A limited change of success

The big tech companies may be genuinely concerned about user privacy.  But it is more likely they are promoting data privacy to avoid additional regulation. Consumers are not flocking to alternatives such as DuckDuckGo, WeAre8 or others.  Caden may yet be a huge success, but my guess is that these services will remain of niche interest.  The reality is the convenience of using email, mapping and search services from the tech giants continues to massively outweigh privacy concerns – for most digital users.

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