Updated Mar 9, 2019 - Technology

Deep Dive: Inside the mass invasion of your privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The grand bargain of the digital age, in which consumers have traded their data for free services, is coming apart. And it may be too late to regain control of the personal data that's been bought, sold and leaked all over the web for the past three decades. 

Why it matters: If information is power, our lackadaisical approach to safeguarding details about our lives has made a handful of companies more powerful than we ever expected, and it's made consumers more vulnerable than ever.

  • A majority of Americans (64%) say they have personally experienced a major data breach, according to Pew Research Center.
  • Americans listed privacy of data as the top priority companies should address, beating issues like poverty and gun violence, according to the Axios-Harris Poll 100.

Here's what it's come to:

The big picture: A reckoning is underway. Major tech companies have announced sweeping changes to their businesses, with privacy — or at least their own versions of privacy— in mind.

  • Just this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will rebuild all its services and apps around several privacy-focused principles, a major departure from how the company has positioned itself for the past decade.
  • New online models that prioritize more data control are beginning to take shape, like innovative data storage and transfer mechanisms and new ways of thinking about data ownership and portability.

Yes, but: The reckoning will happen slowly, and few people have said they'd be willing to pay to access services.

  • The majority of respondents in an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll say they're unlikely to pay for a company to not track their personal data.
  • Business models are cemented around the capture and trading of personal information, and consumers are still hooked on the free, real-time services they get in exchange for that data.
  • Surprisingly few consumers are taking meaningful action to restrict access to that data, or even read privacy policies. There's also no clear way for consumers to see how their data is priced and bartered.

Be smart: Giving consumers more control of their data also means they'd have to take more responsibility for it and actively manage it, like managing financial accounts. And there's going to be a lot more to manage over time.

What’s next: In 2025, each connected person will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds — or nearly 5,000 times per day, according to a recent IDC white paper.

  • Somebody's going to benefit from all that information.

Go deeper:

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Retailers are guzzling data just like tech giants

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Much of the debate around data privacy has centered on the tech giants that are collecting consumer data, but retailers are formidable data guzzlers, too.

Why it matters: The places we shop track us in stores and online and use those troves of data to get us to spend more money. "I think it would be wise if everyone stopped thinking of retailers as retailers and started thinking of them as tech companies," Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, tells Axios.

Dating apps, menstrual trackers accused of violating European data privacy law

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Grindr, OkCupid, Tinder, Qibla Finder and MyDays X are among 10 apps feeding user data — such as ethnicity, location, gender and age — to digital ad companies, nonprofit Norwegian Consumer Council found in a report released on Tuesday.

Why it matters: These dating, prayer guidance and menstrual cycle or fertility tracking apps collect information from some of the most intimate parts of users' lives. The council argues that sharing this data violates a European data protection law that went into effect last year.

Go deeperArrowJan 15, 2020

Lawmakers offer bipartisan update to children's online privacy law

Reps. Bobby Rush (L) and Tim Walberg. Photos: Alex Wong/Getty Images; Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

House lawmakers are introducing a bipartisan bill Thursday to update a long-standing children's online privacy law so that parents could force companies to delete personal information collected about their kids.

Go deeperArrowJan 9, 2020