The Data Blackhole is coming

Privacy tools like ours are indirectly undermining the whole internet economic model. Now that users conceal their data and identity, targeted advertising – a main vein of the internet economy – is watching with horror at the new development.

Data Blackhole

We all experience the economics of the internet on a daily basis. They are usually compromised of those pesky somewhat flashing advertisements that sometimes chase us from one web site to the other. The internet, so it seems, knows who we are and where we go, and the advertising industry knows exactly how to use it.

Behind the scenes though, in a place far from our surfing eyes, rolls the real mechanism: Big Data. Data is the fuel that powers the internet economy: whether consumers realize it or not, in order to use pretty much any website or online service, they hand over some form of data, which is then re-used or resold. It's an exchange that is so common that it's even spawned a catchphrase: if you're not paying for a product, you are the product.

Know the policy!

Take Google mail as an example. When users open an e-mail account at Google mail they are required, just like in almost any other website, to confirm a user agreement, terms and conditions and the privacy policy. In Google’s case it allows the company to scan through your e-mails and though to deliver targeted ads. But in the past year we realized that Google is not the only one capitalizing on our e-mails. The Snowden revelations made it clear that governments are also interested in the data. Privacy, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg put it in 2010, is dead.

The privacy policy and the terms and conditions of a website are a very unilateral take-it-or-leave-it contract that most people don't read and if they did, wouldn't understand anyway. In legal terms we the users, gave companies like Facebook and Google the deal and they have accepted it gladly. A lot of people intuitively understand that there is a quid pro quo in trading our data for the services but that's not everyone and also the deal has not been explicitly laid down in front of us. Is it a good deal? Is the service actually worth less than our personal data and privacy?

Data is no longer ripe fruit waiting to be picked

While this is a question that recently created a discussion about whether data companies should actually pay us for our data, the concerns of users around the globe about their privacy started to shake the earth underneath targeted advertising, CRM and big data analytics. As privacy awareness rises, consumers are willing to share less, block more and protect their identity and privacy through using tools like ZenMate. The last year with its government internet blockade accruing in many countries and the growing fears from loss of privacy, has brought a boom in such tools as ours. We know this ourselves from the dramatic rise in our users numbers. While this trend is a good one for us, it may signal a shift in the internet economy.


  • Consumer efforts to protect personal data and remain "invisible" online is leading to a "data black hole" that could adversely impact digital advertisers, according to technology research firm Ovum.

  • The move to seek "new tools that allow them to remain 'invisible' – untraceable and impossible to target by data means" will impact advertisers who rely on that information to target their audiences, Ovum said.

  • Surveying consumers in 11 countries around the world, the research firm said 68 per cent of respondents said they would select a "do not track" feature if this was easily available.

"This hardening of consumer attitudes, coupled with tightening regulation, could diminish personal data supply lines and have considerable impact on targeted advertising, customer relationship management, big data analytics and other digital industries," the London-based firm said in a statement

Mark Little, a principal analyst at Ovum, said internet users were increasingly getting more access to new tools to "monitor, control and secure their personal data as never before".

What are your thoughts? Will tools like ours make companies understand that your private data is not just there for the picking?