Data vs Privacy
They say data is the new oil. While the island is still trying to figure out what to do with the old, literal oil, we also have to figure out what to do with this new oil. Your data fuels a global market of over $200 billion, and we give it away for free. Companies and governments around the world are fighting to get to know as much about you as possible. We can rest easy thinking that is not the case in Curaçao and the region. Right?
Our island is becoming increasingly smarter because of the adoption of more smart technology. Technology that can sense what happens around us, but also sense us. We are getting used to our smart devices, but now our whole house is slowly turning smart. Think about Google’s Chromecast, Alexa, or even your security system. After that, we are scaling smart to the city level. You might have noticed the traffic and security cameras popping up all around the island lately, especially in the city center. The goal of these technologies is to gather data about our lives, analyze our behavior, and find ways to improve our lives. Let’s take smart thermostats as an example. In colder regions, they are used to automatically turn the heater on when you get home, or off when you leave or go to bed. Whereas in our warmer climate, we could use this technology to control the air conditioning instead.
Another example is busses equipped with GPS, so you can check when the next bus arrives on your phone. There is a thin line, however, between us being sensors that collect data from our environment and us being the sensed object. While your thermostat may know the temperature of your room, it now also knows if you are home or not, or whether you already went to bed. Why isn’t it creepy for you to know when the next bus is due, but it is creepy for the bus company to know that you are the person waiting for a bus?
Perhaps you think that personal information like that is not that valuable to anyone. Besides, we already share our whole lives on social media. You may even feel that you don’t have anything to hide. Only bad people have something to hide. In that case, feel free to send us your private email address and password. We’ll be waiting. Most probably, you won’t be taking us up on that offer. Everybody has something that he or she would rather keep private. Regardless of that, companies are trying their best to find out as much about you as possible. There are algorithms that given enough data points about you (what time you go to bed, what time you take which bus, who your friends are and where you work), can predict your behavior and attributes such as race, religion, and sexuality with decent accuracy. People with ill intentions can use that information to discriminate against individuals, for example, someone not getting a job interview because of their race. That information is also extremely valuable to people trying to control you or influence you. As chilling as that may sound, it is the reality. Open Instagram right now, and in all likelihood, there’s an ad for a product or service that makes you think someone is spying on you. Or look up Cambridge Analytica and read about their impact on the 2016 United States presidential election. That is the $200 billion industry we were talking about previously.
The good news is: privacy is not dead! At least not in our region. Our government is not trying to spy on us, as far as we know. Local companies aren’t collecting a lot of data on people, mainly because we do not interact with them digitally, yet. The relatively small population also means that targeted advertising is not that lucrative yet. As our island becomes smarter and smarter, and more online businesses pop up that want to leverage data, we have to become more responsible for our privacy. History has shown that unless forced by legislation, companies don’t have any incentive to take your privacy into account. Since the General Data Protection Regulation came into effect in Europe last year, websites have to reveal what they track about you, who they share that data with, and most importantly, give you the option to opt-out.
Curaçao is in a position to be ahead of the curve. We have the chance to shape the conversation on online privacy and the legislation that stems from that. There’s a lot of opportunities for private and public online services that leverage data to improve our lives. Take Estonia as an example, where they are leading the way in providing successful e-government services for their citizens. Where other countries are still figuring out how to implement smart technologies in providing better public services, Estonia has used its relatively small country size to its advantage to develop efficient and effective ways for its inhabitants to interact with their government. The goal must be that smart technology gives you access to useful services in and around the city while keeping you in control of your personal data.