The emergence of social media, dating back to the early 2000s, is revolutionary on so many levels. It is constantly evolving in its practical usage, as seen during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, and in the many niche branches that have emerged for both entertainment and business usage, such as Snapchat and Instagram.

A hotly debated niche branch that has recently captivated many individuals’ free time and caught nationwide negative press is TikTok —a Chinese-founded video app that allows users to perform viral dances to clips of music. While, much like Snapchat and the late Vine, businesses saw new marketing and branding opportunities in the popularity of the app, the United States government saw a huge red flag.

Being that it was founded by a Chinese firm, government officials, fear that the app is collating data from its users and have actually put into motion an order to shut it down nationwide.

This event yet again raised a topic I have discussed since the mid-1980s: In this digital world, who actually owns our data?

Who Is Listening?

Those who avoid social media for personal or professional reasons often believe they are immune to this virtual data confiscation; however, if you have a smart device in your life, your data is just as accessible as an individual dancing for their TikTok audience.

Take, for example, several news reports about how the Google app on your smartphone can listen to your television set while it is on, allowing Google advertisers to identify what you are watching to leverage it for targeted advertising, based on your real-time viewing habits.

Outside of social media and digital entertainment, many cars on the road today have a type of “black box” in them with the capabilities of reporting your driving habits to insurance agencies, which are moving to a sliding scale of auto insurance premiums based on your real-time risk on the road. But, much like our other examples, who owns that data? The insurance company? The auto manufacturer? The driver?

As you can see, there’s a lot of data being collected, and it’s not just by the NSA. It’s by an increasing list of companies that are starting to realize they can monitor everything we do and provide personalized customer service and new benefits in real time.

What Exactly Is “Your Data”?

Now is the time to think about it. Who should own your data? This is a vital topic with many predictable problems we need to start solving today, before they wreak havoc on us tomorrow.

If you sign up for an app like TikTok, you likely agree to terms and conditions at one point or another. This is your consent to allow a social media app like TikTok to access your personal information; however, in many cases, the information they harvest is merely what you populate the app with.

So, the short answer to who owns your data is the app or social media platform, if outlined in their terms and conditions. But, is the only way to take control of your data by having an avoidance relationship with social media? As mentioned in the new car example, avoidance will not work. The smarter devices on the market become, the more naturally vulnerable we are to losing personal control of the data we supply.

The key here is understanding that we supply the data they have access to. If understanding how our data is handled in this ever-expanding digital age is important, where do we start?

New Opportunity in a New Frontier

The Hard Trend, or future certainty, in all of this is that the rate of technological change will only continue to increase; therefore, our only “defense” is to educate ourselves.

  • Start by using trusted online services that outline that they will not sell your information to third-party vendors.
  • When it comes to entertainment-based technology, such as social media, limit sensitive data you do not wish to share. In many cases, you must, at the very minimum, use your name and email address, but that is about it. You are smarter than the machine; use critical thinking when navigating this digital frontier.

So, in short, while the data you input may be owned by several others, you still control your data and where you input it. Be cognizant of how much you share with the world, and if you step outside of those boundaries, understanding where it goes is half the battle.