Protecting the Data Environment from Your Data Exhaust
Iron Eyes Cody is not a name most people remember, but you likely remember his tear. He appeared on television paddling his canoe down a river, which becomes increasingly polluted until the next scene shows him walking alongside a freeway — only to have a bag of trash thrown at his feet.
A close-up of Cody looking into the camera with the most iconic tear in American television history rolling down his cheek became part of a relentless campaign to “Keep America Beautiful.”
The last 50 years have spawned multiple social movements that gave us a chance to clean up after ourselves. In recent decades, this has become a cry that focuses on protecting the environment. That consumer awareness and impact of the narrative seem to be having a significant effect on the level of personal responsibility.
In 1970, at the height of what most at that time considered a “crisis” period, 112,590,000 tons of solid waste went to landfills with 8,020,000 tons were recycled. In 2018 (the latest year of statistics recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency), 146,120,000 tons of solid waste went to landfills; 69,090,000 tons were recycled; 24,890,000 were composted; 34,550,000 were combusted to energy recovery; and 17,710,000 were accounted for with “other food management.”
The total measured during the 1970 timeframe: 88,120,000 tons. 2018, though, represented a 331 percent increase in total waste: 292,360,000 tons. 2018’s number seems to represent a more “curated” waste profile — one that hides the fact that we generate way more trash than at any time on record. In our 2022 reality, there is another source of waste, albeit an invisible one.
Humans are creating data at an exponential rate, faster than any society has ever created any amount of other type of waste. And we talk about it in terms that don’t stink: Megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes…yottabytes. Words like this may sound like COVID-19 subvariants, but these descriptors are really the measuring sticks of our digital lives.
While the exact numbers are still being quantified for 2021, there is a projection that humans created, captured, copied and consumed more than 79 zettabytes of data worldwide. Few people talk in zettabytes, so here is the conversion: ONE zettabyte = one TRILLION gigabytes.
Active data generation occurs with nearly every move we make. We check email, check social media, go to work with our phones connected to Bluetooth streaming content to our cars, work in connected environments, conduct transactions at lunch or when we pick up something for dinner on the way home. We stream data that resolves to images and sound on our television. We send data that resolves to images on another phone or in an app.
The characteristics of data are much like oil. There seems to be value in nearly every part of its utility, yet it creates byproducts when used and often results in a “data exhaust,” which can choke people and organizations alike. It is increasingly legislated but can be as combustible as any other volatile substance buried in the ground. With the right ignition source, data can cause damage. And data exhaust can blow back into our lives and cause problems.
All these factors coalesce and form a coming data crisis with a similar necessary outcome as crafted by the “Keep America Beautiful” message: personal responsibility. Privacy legislation has been helpful, but it has also given consumers a false sense of security and diminished proactive personal responsibility of their own data. Legislation feeds the notion that a consumer can create as much data as they like and someone else gets punished if it is misused. There is a growing societal need for every consumer to understand and curate their data.
Every data breach reminds us that we cannot rely on others to manage our data waste. So, what can any smart consumer do to manage their own data exhaust? Consider these three practices:
1) Understand your data: Every adult must understand what parts of their information they should protect.
2) Curate your data: Pay attention to who is capturing your personal information and what they are getting. Treat it like a house key. If it does not feel right to hand it over, then don’t. Privacy legislation is rapidly evolving to allow consumers to have access and retain rights to their personal data.
3) Protect your data: Ask yourself — what information about me is truly necessary to accomplish what I am trying to do? Learn to manage privacy preferences, especially in all your social media.
It is not rude to protect your data. For anyone to learn to swim in the ocean of information being transmitted around (and in some cases, through) us, managing your personal information is one giant step toward better security and a giant leap toward better digital citizenship.
Mark Hodges is vice president of sales and client management for Edafio Technology Partners, headquartered in North Little Rock with offices in Rogers and Conway.