Firms such as CloudCapture, which launched Wednesday, and Abine,
which debuted its 'Do Not Track Plus' app in February, see a ripe
opportunity to turn the technology developed to mine personal data
into a tool consumers can use to fight its abuse.
This has been dubbed "the year of Big Data," meaning a time when
online firms such as Facebook and Google are capitalizing on an
unprecedented and vast amount of personal, user-generated
But the rush to corral, and monetize, that data is also fast
ushering in a new digital management industry built around growing
worries over the loss of personal privacy.
"Every day consumers are beginning to pay more attention to this
issue," says Rob D'Ovidio, an associate professor of criminal
justice and an expert on Internet security at Drexel University in
Philadelphia. As more services to tackle the topic appear, "they
will not only give consumers new tools but they will play an
educational role in pushing understanding of the larger privacy
Concerns have been escalating over what these Internet giants are
doing with user data. Everyone from the White House and the Federal
Trade Commission to the EU, and digital rights groups from the US to
Europe, have been tussling with the problem of how to get online
companies to respect consumers' privacy rights.
So far, voluntary moves by players such as Facebook and Google to
address privacy concerns - notably a "Do Not Track" button that has
no enforcement mechanism behind it - lack teeth, say critics.
Private companies such as Los Angeles-based CloudCapture, which
launched Wednesday, and Abine, which debuted its "Do Not Track Plus"
application in February, see a ripe opportunity to turn the same
complex technology that was developed to mine personal data into a
tool consumers can use to fight its abuse.
"This is a repeat of what we saw at the beginning of the
Internet," says Bill Kerrigan, chief executive officer of Abine, a
four-year-old online security company based in Boston. "People
slowly began to realize there were things going on all over the
Internet they had no understanding about, and the antivirus industry
was born." The same "awareness-driving-adoption" cycle is now
building behind privacy issues, he says.
"Just as people began demanding tools to fight computer viruses,
they are now waking up to the need to protect their personal privacy
online," Mr. Kerrigan says. "We are at a point where consumers want
someone working on their behalf."
More than 580 different technologies are being used to track
personal data, he notes. Indeed, 73 percent of people using the
Internet consider it an invasion of privacy for a search engine to
keep track of searches and use that information to personalize
future search results, according to a poll by the Pew Research
Center released this past week. …