Do we not all dread the moment when we show a friend a photo on our phone and they start swiping to see the next picture? And usually there is nothing alarming in our gallery – maybe a few hundred snapshots of us trying to (unsuccessfully) take a cute selfie with a pet. But on the other hand, all those pictures are backed up on a private cloud, such as iCloud or Google Cloud. Not just pictures: our search history, contacts, location data, social media activities or expenses are stored online, as well. The leaking of our data is not the biggest issue here, as we may secure it very easily with the right security software – the main problem which none of us seems to grasp is that we trust that this information will not be used against us.

Behavioral Data and Analytics

As most of you already know, every time we do anything online our data is being collected and analyzed in order to gain insights on our behavior. It is mainly used for ecommerce platforms, online gaming, apps, and IoT devices, to give users an ideal experience. In China retailer Alibaba uses the Zhima Credit system to create a social score where people can voluntarily choose being scored on their behavior. Citizens use it, as a huge number of them does not own a traditional credit history. A positive Zhyma score allows banks to score their credit risk. On the other hand, people with a positive score also have opportunities to get better deals in general. People use the Zhima Credit system because they are sure to earn high scores, and if they do not, they can still choose to conceal the information, right?

Are you trustworthy?

Once something is online it stays online, and it can and will be used against you. A recent international study by Kaspersky shows that out of 10.000 people, 30 pc already experienced issues because of social rating systems, like not getting a job or getting different prices for the same product online. I myself remember an issue my friend faced from an online retailer a few years back: There was this online shop I recommended to my friend, as you could order a bunch of cloths to try them on and only have to pay after you know which pieces you want to keep. While I could just create an account and shop ahead, my friend was denied the final step for ordering, and had to allow them getting insights into his SCHUFA score (SCHUFA: The General Credit Protection Association in Germany) or paying upfront. So, my friend’s online behavior gave the online retail company the impression, that he may not be trustworthy or able to pay them, and therefore denied him the service I thought was regular. Professor Chengyi Lin, Affiliate Professor at INSEAD: “If we have a holistic view on individual’s life and integrate it in one score that score could have a huge impact on all of these aspects, from financials, how you get a mortgage, getting your next job, to how you interact with others through a social setting.”

“This stays between us, okay?”

We all have this friend who we trust and share everything with, and are sure, even without saying, that the information shared is confidential. But we also have this one friend, that no matter how often you tell them “This stays between us, okay?” a few weeks later everyone knows, because they share it with their best friend, and they share it with their best friend, and so on. This is kind of what happens online. No matter how many buttons we click to deactivate being followed or how many script blockers we use, online platforms have a lot of data about you, and are very fine with sharing them for the right amount of money with other platforms to present you the perfect ad. But the perfect ad or a different price are not the most troubling part. In November 2019 Facebook reported that a number of 128.617 demands for user data by governments all over the world were made in the first half of 2019 – a record high! So, you could land on the no flight list just for posting the wrong meme or befriending the wrong people on Facebook without really knowing why.

Share with caution

Just like you would not share everything with everyone in real life, you need to be cautious of what you share online. “Take a second, think about your own data. What are you willing to exchange for the value of your data?”, suggests Prof. Chengyi Lin. It is not just likes or comments, but also your pictures: “Right now in the US a lot of protests are being monitored through a facial recognition system that could indicate on how police and others treat the protestors,” (Chengyi Lin). Social rating is not really something we can escape as easily as we may think, as it will play a much bigger part in our future, than now. All we can do is be aware of the possible consequences and think twice, if we really have to post this fun picture from last night’s party or that meme about how much month is left at the end of the money.