Your data is worth a lot. It’s time to start treating it like money

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Business have viewed data as a valuable asset for some time, using it to pitch us more relevant content and ads and even selling it to other businesses. But what about the rest of us?

That’s a chief question explored by Michael Kaiser (pictured), executive director at the National Cyber Security Alliance. His group put on a Data Privacy Day event last Thursday at the San Francisco headquarters of Twitter Inc., a sponsor of the event.

Data Privacy Day is an annual celebration begun in Europe to recognize the Jan. 28, 1981, signing of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty concerning privacy and data protection. In the U.S., similar privacy protection efforts have been underway since 2008, and in 2011, the NCSA took over management of the endeavor.

Kaiser spoke with Jeff Frick, co-host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile video studio, to discuss how consumers, not just businesses, should treat their data much as they do their cold, hard cash. This is one of a series of interviews with top executives and thought leaders at the event.

“Personal information is like money — value it and protect it,” said Kaiser, whose group’s mission is to educate both consumers and businesses about privacy rights and responsibilities. The end goal is not simply to fear-monger or create an obstacle course for businesses to navigate. Instead, he said, through education and clarifying of rights an ecosystem of greater trust can emerge, allowing businesses to focus on serving customers.

Data capital: not just for businesses

According to Kaiser, consumers should educate themselves on why and how their information is used by businesses or applications so they can make smart choices about how freely they should “spend” it.

But it’s tough to do without help from businesses. A mobile application he was using, for instance, asked permission to access information about his phone. Kaiser said that this seemed suspicious to him at first: What did they need to know about his phone? “Then I realized later that it needs access to the phone because if the phone rings, it needs to turn itself off so I can answer the phone. But that wasn’t apparent.”

Customers should be able to make their own choices about how their data is shared, and it’s not all that difficult for companies to make this possible. “I would like to see a lot more transparency and ease of access to what’s being collected about you and what’s being used,” he said.

Usually, the requests are innocuous and most customers will opt in, he said, but it ought to be their choice. So a seemingly suspicious request could have been made innocuous simply by adding a few more words. Why didn’t the application maker’s think of that?

The problem is that many businesses still think of privacy disclosures as long documents that tell customers much more than they really need to know (and protect the business from a legal standpoint). In his view, businesses need to become more deft at isolating the parts that they do need to know and including them in the popups and notices that consumers see. Kaiser believes that this is not something businesses need to fear. Rather, it increases trust, which can result in more sales or new customers.

Kaiser sees other ways that greater transparency can help businesses. Using car insurance as an example, he said, “if they want to say to you, ‘Hey, Michael, we might give you a better rate if we can track your driving habits for  a couple of weeks,'” then that could be a way they could sweeten the pot. But again, Kaiser said, it has to be the consumer’s choice.

New stakes with the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is raising the stakes on data privacy, too. “In the current world it’s about data, delivering ads, those kinds of things, making the experience more customized,” he said. “But in IoT where you’re talking about wearables or fitness or those kinds of things or thermostats in your home — your data really drives that.”

That’s where Kaiser believes consumers will have to give great thought to whether that is a good value proposition. Consumers can develop a new mindset that allows them to quickly gauge the value they get from sharing certain data and consciously decide if sharing it is worth the bite it takes out of their privacy.

Kaiser hopes that companies will make their data collection purposes more transparent and accessible, but he said in the meantime, consumers are not defenseless.

“Own your online presence,” he advised. “Consumers have an active role in how they interact with the Internet, so use the settings that are there, use the safety and security or privacy and security settings.”

Here’s the complete video interview with Kaiser. You can watch the rest of theCUBE’s coverage of the event here.

Photo by SiliconANGLE