The sharing of that information, however, also serves us by making the apps we use more reliable or ensuring that certain corners of the internet are safe for children, according to L. Jean Camp, a professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University.
NewsNation spoke with Camp about the risks and benefits of personal data collection.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NewsNation: What are some ways our online habits are tracked and what are they used for?
Camp: When you go to a website, they want to know what you want to buy and they want to know how much they’re going to sell it to you for. Or more often, they want to know exactly how much your time and attention span is worth to that website … Trying to figure out how much to charge for these different impressions and different attention spans is a tremendous amount of data analysis.
NewsNation: So if I’m driving in my car and I’m using Google Maps, who has access to my location information?
Camp: It really doesn’t matter if you’re using maps or not. Maps is giving you the benefit of the information, but a huge number of these apps are going to have your location information. You have to go through on Google and check each of them individually to make sure that they’re not tracking your location at all times … They get the money, we get the risk. That is the core problem.
NewsNation: Who are “they?”
Camp: We have this economic system now where we give up data and as a result, we get services. But you cannot pay not to have your data collected, often … So we have a problem in that the data are being compiled, and they are not always used for our collective benefit. There should be some kind of benefit/reward that we can negotiate or ask for and that is not always present.
NewsNation: Can this data collection benefit us?
Camp: There are so many ways we can benefit ourselves in this collection of personal data … there’s a research project that collects and reads millions and millions of (interactions with) Google and Apple apps … And they find in every one of those apps, whether or not the app hasn’t been used or it creates a risk of predators connecting with children.
… But we cannot choose what value we want and we cannot choose where we don’t want to participate.
NewsNation: Are there other ways we benefit from personal data collection?
Camp: Have you ever gotten on one of the maps applications and tried to drive around traffic? The reason you know that traffic is there is because everybody else has their phone on also. The speed of their car and the number of phones will tell you where the traffic is. A lot of information we share collectively creates these collective sharing goods. But much of it is just used to sell us something.
NewsNation: What are some of the downsides to data collection?
Camp: Law enforcement has a tremendous amount of access to third-party data because the theory is that we willingly share it with third parties. You went to that protest with your phone on or you walked past that protest with your phone on. In either case, you have shared your location so law enforcement can ask for a location at a time (or) anyone who was near this space.
IoT systems have been used by abusive exes when they had the admin password because they were your sweetheart and you trusted them, and then they changed your admin password. That can be very difficult.
If you travel and you post it on Facebook, please make sure it’s only shared to your friends. If you provide detailed information about yourself, it could be used against you or someone else. As a parent, I ask all moms to lie about their date of birth on Facebook for the very important reason that banks often use that as authenticating information.
NewsNation: Where is this headed?
Camp: There are multiple natural market experiments that are happening. Apple now has Apple Transparency which allows you to refuse to have organizations use your data. And you are increasingly seeing “opt-in” on the Android platform…I have tremendous hopes that we can develop a privacy market where we can choose to share our information for what it is worth or pay for the service directly.
NewsNation: Any final thoughts?
Camp: I think that artificial intelligence is absolutely critical, but there is no such thing as artificial morality or artificial human judgment. As long as we use it to serve our judgments in a thoughtful way, it is going to be critical and invaluable. If we treat it like it’s magic and it’s fixing things and (if we) don’t examine it adequately, that data can not only not serve us, but could end up hurting us quite significantly.