How would you feel if you knew that someone else was making money – and we mean a lot of money – from your identity? Your likes, behaviors, interests, opinions… all the unique information about you is up for grabs and raking in big profits for individuals and corporations every minute of every day. The worst part? You don’t make a dime from any of this behind-the-scenes identity capitalism.
“Hey, Woah, I don’t like that at all!” you say. “Nobody should have the power to make money from my sovereignty!”
We get it. It’s never easy to learn that your online identity is making money for everyone except you. It’s like someone coming into your home, taking your possessions, and selling them for profit. Except, in this case, your very personhood is the driver of profit for companies you may have never heard of before.
How did it get this way? The answer is deceivingly easy – mass online surveillance. Nowadays, countless online registration forms, subscription signups, online purchases, and more are clicked and sent across millions of websites. Users take for granted the assumption that their sensitive financial data is being safely encrypted and stored – yet often, this data is being mined and sold online for valuable profit by companies around the world.
Don’t believe us? Look at the rise in data breaches on big company websites and the rise in privacy laws such as HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA. While malicious actors undertake some of these data-mining and online surveillance practices, many of these laws are in response to the realization that an individual’s online activity is monitored continuously and monetized for others’ gain.
When you log onto the internet and scroll your favorite social media streams and shopping sites, your identity transforms from sovereign individuals with rights and privacy to a profitable digital fingerprint. As you scroll, companies are using your data and online information to draw profits through targeted advertising, information sales, and identity-stealing practices that look for financial information and personal data. Some are even listening in through the microphones of your devices to catch keywords that can then be used to market products to you directly.
The industry is big money. According to studies, out of 144 million page loads, 77% of included some kind of user tracker software baked-in. When it came to surveillance, Google captures valuable user information from 64% of page loads. This mass-surveillance from companies (and other entities such as the government) equals big money for corporations and a loss of identity for you.
What is the solution for taking back your online life and shutting down those ears that are always listening in to your every step? Some companies are popping up that allow users to hire data-miners to delete your information from the internet. Still, these freedom-fighters (who are also making a profit) may not be enough to fight the tide of mass-surveillance.
Another method that is gaining steam is the concept of Self-Sovereign Identity (SSID). With SSID, users can safely navigate websites and other online purchases by removing the need for information input through websites. Instead, through the use of a secure identity system that uses randomly-generated, private identifiers that are paired to identity documents that can only be accessed by a trusted authority. Users can use their favorite payment systems and more online without risking their information is being saved, stored, and sold online.
For example, consider renting a car. Typically, one must fill out a reservation online that includes most of your personal information and financial data. Instead of this risky practice, SSID allows for you to submit a randomly-generated key to the rental car company, who then verifies it with the entity that stores the verification document. Once verified, you are good to go! No more inputting of valuable personal data that can be observed and sold for a profit to other third parties.
As you become increasingly aware of how corporations and entities are monitoring your online behavior, it can be startling and frightening at how much control of your life is being taken from you for profit. Only when we begin to take note of the pervasive ways that we are being watched online and our thinly-veiled “privacy” being taken advantage of when we take steps to steal our identities back. SSID is a great place to start, but only when we all do our part to practice safe online security will we begin to turn the tide and fight back against our online Big Brother.