There’s a lot of talk about data collection these days. Companies are constantly processing data from a variety of sources, including their customers. When you press your index finger into the home button on your iPhone so your phone can get your prints and allow you to use it in lieu of a password, then that’s data. When you enter your address and phone number into an online order form, that’s also data. Even your list of preferences on a dating site can be considered data, which can feel bizarre. Who would have thought that saying “I like men who are above six feet tall” or “I like women who don’t have kids” is useful information for the dating website you’re using? It’s useful for you, and maybe for the people you’re trying to date, but for the company?
There are so many ways companies can use data nowadays. Some are good. If a clothing retailer knows you like shirts from a particular designer, they can send you a text notification when that designer’s new line arrives. Some are not so good, like when you start getting junk mail from companies you’ve never heard of asking if you want car insurance for your 2012 Ford Focus. How do they know what kind of car you drive?
The need for companies to store data is so great that companies like Aligned Data Centers have popped up to offer scalable data solutions that can adapt to any organization’s needs. Technology is changing so rapidly that businesses need data storage that can adjust quickly to the shifting landscape. But what about you, the consumer? How should you adapt?
Some people react by shrugging their shoulders and deciding there’s no way out. They assume the Internet already knows way too much about them, and decide that there’s no putting that horse back in the barn at this point. They live their life freely and openly, with little regard for privacy. If you have any friends on social media who post graphic photos of their dental work as it’s being performed, then they probably fall into this category. They’ve decided living their version of an “authentic” life is worth more than privacy.
Other people go in the exact opposite direction and try to do everything possible to live “off the grid.” They’ll refuse to have a smartphone, or maybe any cell phone at all. They use fake names when they shop online, or simply refuse to shop anywhere but brick-and-mortar shops. When a cashier at a clothing shop asks for their zip code, they’ll get weirdly hostile and say, “Why do you need to know that?”
There has to be a happy medium between those two extremes, right? One way forward lies in trying to understand as much as possible about data collection. If you see a term that’s unfamiliar to you, like Java logging, look it up and be enlightened. Knowledge is power, even when there’s so much knowledge out there that it feels overwhelming. You know those privacy agreements and terms of services you see online? The ones you agree to without even reading? Slow down and read them, or at least skim them. It’s okay if your feelings about data collection change frequently. You can turn your smartphone’s location services on one day, then turn it off the next day. Heck, you can toggle back and forth multiple times a day if that’s your thing. Figure out what you’re comfortable with, and then go from there. And it’s perfectly okay if you don’t want to give the clerk at a department store your zip code, but try not to be a jerk about it.