In the city of Chicago, made up of nearly 3 million people and over seven thousand licensed cabs, it’s safe to assume that hundreds of people take a cab every day within the city limits. This fact also means a substantial number of people are recorded or photographed. A record of every passenger, conversation, and phone call.
Last week, the two of us shared a cab to the airport. A bad driver and icy roads led to a four car accident. Then, a mistake by our driver resulted in a recording of the earlier portion of our cab ride being played to us over the cab’s speakers. Anyone could clearly hear our conversation, distinguish between our voices, and listen to us discuss where to get the best breakfast sandwich at O’Hare (we agreed on the secret Starbucks by gate G14).
These recording systems certainly have a place in protecting the safety of drivers and passengers, and to determine liability for accidents such as the one we were in. However, even as part of the millennial generation that is liberal in sharing personal data, it was unnerving to see actual evidence of the data collection in play. Nearly every cab company in Chicago informs you that you may be photographed or recorded, but do you usually remember this as you enter a cab? Where else in the world is data being collected, stored and referenced about us?
We are aware of the benefits of data collection and generously continue to provide it on public facing websites, as well as within mobile apps and online shopping carts. But what about the risks? Experiences like the organizational blunders of Target and Snapchat, as well as our own in the Chicago cab, serve as an important reminder of the prevalence and associated risks of consumer data collection.
It’s interesting to question where we draw the line of companies profiting from our freely-shared data. Something as innocent as being tagged in a Facebook photo results in your image being loaded into the world’s largest biometric dataset. Additionally, retailers are increasingly using in-store software to pick up customers’ Wi-Fi signals, then tracking their movements throughout the store. Are you comfortable with retailers using your data for customized promotions and as a measure to increase profits?
While many of these data-collecting services seem innocent on an individual basis, it’s eerie how companies can reconstruct you as a consumer – from your personal fashion preferences, to the bars you frequent, to the places you live and work – the aggregate of this information becomes a significant risk. We urge you to be cautious about what services you provide data to, and conscious of what public forums allow you to be photographed or recorded. Watch those snaps, millennials!