Steve Hicks, Head of Global Sales, BullGuard looks at why personal data is big business and why we should value our right to privacy
Whichever way you look at it, people the world over have essentially uploaded their entire lives online in return for social media profiles, apps, e-commerce benefits, online bookings, easy website access and a raft of other online services. And every bit of personal data that they have parted with has been hoovered up by Big Tech companies and sold on to anonymous third parties, typically for advertising purposes. Personal data is a hugely profitable business. Just look at Facebook’s $69.2 billion annual profit for 2020. Even Google, which faced unprecedented regulatory pressure in 2020 and a financial hit from the pandemic, still managed to pull in $25 billion in profit in the first nine months of 2020.
This has ultimately led to the position we find ourselves in today, that is, user privacy online barely exists and the expectation of privacy seems like a quaint notion from the past. Mountains of data have been gathered and continue to be scooped up every time we go online. This has all happened without much of an outcry, largely because Big Tech adopted a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to their services, forcing people to share considerable amounts of personal data as a condition for using their services. Enraptured by shiny new digital toys, games and services, most of us have given up our rights to privacy almost unthinkingly.
We could, however, see a significant change imminently thanks to a privacy movement that is gathering pace, with people and governments questioning the power of Big Tech and its adverse impact on personal privacy and competition. It was noted in the mainstream a few years ago at a 2018 Brussels privacy conference, when, of all people, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO said: “We shouldn’t sugar-coat the consequences. This is surveillance and these stockpiles of data serve only to make rich the companies that collect them. This should make us uncomfortable.”
Around the same time, a Berlin regional court found that Facebook’s default settings and some of its terms of service were in breach of consumer law and that parts of the consent to data usage were actually legally invalid, raising questions about Facebook’s data gathering methods. Germany’s highest court also signalled its willingness to challenge the power of Big Tech, their hold on customer data and user rights, when the parents of a young girl who had passed away wanted to access her account for justifiable reasons, but Facebook refused them access. The court ruled that the parents had rights to the account under inheritance law, striking a small but significant victory for user data rights.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority has also said the UK government should consider tougher rules for online giants such as Google and Facebook over user privacy and competition concerns. But as we saw recently in Australia, when Facebook pulled the plug on news, Big Tech isn’t going to roll over. Of course, under pressure, privacy policies have been made clearer and some concessions to user privacy rights have been made. But still, the fact remains that most people feel powerless about what happens to their personal data. For privacy reasons, it is, however, essential that people feel in control of their data.
Amid these stirrings among legislators, new technologies are surfacing, including privacy apps and decentralised social media platforms with radical business models – such as paying people for their data. Ad blockers for instance are already popular, as are privacy search engines such as DuckDuckGo.
This swelling tide of realisation that our data is being used as a commodity is a great opportunity for resellers to sell privacy products, such as BullGuard VPN, and antimalware software that includes privacy browsers. With BullGuard’s VPN launch to the channel, resellers have the opportunity to boost revenues with excellent up-front margins and benefit from industry-leading revenue share on all license renewals.
VPN sales have rocketed during the pandemic, and as privacy concerns continue to mount and increased remote working becomes a fact of everyday life demand will remain strong. Alongside protection and anonymity, BullGuard VPN also has a strict no-logs policy, so a user’s online privacy is strictly guarded. These privacy issues are not going away and will take on increasing importance as Big Tech continues to come under the spotlight. Resellers are well placed to leverage the privacy wave and help and educate their customers. For instance, there is a myth among many consumers that a VPN is complex and requires technical skills, which of course is the opposite of reality. And how many also know that a VPN also protects them on public Wi-Fi networks and enables them to access their favourite streaming services from any location? Fundamentally, how many are aware that a VPN helps them reclaim their natural right to privacy? In today’s climate, these points make VPNs an easy sale.
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