Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations
Commoditization of internet users’ data by technological firms appears to have more negative effects than positive outcomes on internet users. Users have no control of how the information they enter into different websites is used hence cannot fully understand the scope of information-commoditization by analytical firms. The primary purpose of this study was to analyze the issues and problems associated with the commodification of internet users’ data. The research questions facilitated the examination of the legal and ethical issues associated with commodification of user data, effects, and users’ attitudes and perceptions towards the unauthorized collection, analysis, and sale of their private online data to third-party entities.
The main themes that emerge from the data analysis include the fear of privacy violation, breach of trust, security concerns, and ethics of wealth inequalities. From the findings, the two greatest internet user concerns are privacy and security breaches. This chapter presents deductions from the analyzed data and the results as guided by the social cognitive theory (SCT) applied in the study as a conceptual framework. The chapter also presents conclusions drawn from the results and data analysis about the overall effects and implications of the commodification of internet user data. Moreover, recommendations have also been suggested based on the findings regarding the management of the commodification of internet user data.
In this study, the researcher analyzed the effects of the commodification of internet users’ data by data-analytical firms. Given cyber-security issues including phishing, espionage, and fraud, it is crucial to ensure that effective security measures have been put in place. Effective security measures can protect internet users from the confidentiality breaches that can arise when malicious IoT users get access to private and confidential information internet users’ information (Oravec, 2017). The results of the data collection and analysis were coded and organized into four major themes. They include fear of privacy violation, breach of trust, security concerns, and ethics of wealth. Meanwhile, the two greatest concerns that emerged from the results are privacy concerns and security issues.
The first research question on the ethical issues that arise due to the commoditization of internet users’ private information was answered by the results. The results found that commoditization of internet users’ data results in security concerns, leads to a breach of trust, and elicits the fear of privacy violations. The result is consistent with Oravec’s (2017) findings on the ethical issues of commoditization of internet users’ data. Security concerns were raised by the participants from technology firms that commoditization of internet users’ data can give untrustworthy people and criminals access to sensitive information. Criminals can use confidential information in different malicious ways including cyber fraud, impersonation, disclosure of sensitive information to unauthorized parties, and espionage (Alsubaei et al., 2017). From the respondent’s sample representing different populations, privacy concerns were raised by 53 respondents, which represents 38%. Confidentiality was the second—greatest concern having been raised by 34 of the total respondents and represents 24.8% of the overall concerns regarding commoditization of internet users’ confidential information. The third-greatest concern was security risks, which was highlighted by 28 respondents, corresponding to 20.43% of the concerns. Finally, wealth disparity was raised by a total of 22 respondents and corresponds to 16.1% of the overall issues that emerged from the thematic analysis.
In light of the inductive nature of this study, the results support the hypothesis that commodification of internet users’ data poses crucial ethical issues including breaches of privacy and confidentiality, security concerns, and wealth inequality. Commoditization of internet users’ data has been shown to facilitate the theft of intellectual property, cyber-fraud, and espionage (Bastos et al., 2018). The findings of previous studies concerning the reduction of internet users’ self-efficacy due to commoditization of internet users’ data have also been confirmed by the results (Oravec, 2017). The mediating factor for the reduction of internet users’ self-efficacy due to the commoditization of users’ data is the IoT. Internet-enabled devices can be controlled remotely when connected to the internet if the remote user has the necessary information for accessing and instructing the devices (Khadam et al., 2020). When malicious entities get hold of internet users’ private information, they can effectively control internet-enabled devices remotely. Some of the crucial equipment that can be controlled include power equipment and healthcare machines.
Wealth inequality concerns were raised by individual and corporate internet end-users. In particular, the participants were concerned that firms that sell their personal confidential information do not reward them equitably. This result answers the second research question concerning the effects of commoditization of internet users’ data on consumer behavior. When consumers feel that they have been exploited by data-analytics firms that do not reward them for using their data, they are likely to change their consumption patterns (Choi et al., 2020). For instance, end-users are likely to enter false information when filling in personal details and change their internet use patterns to disguise their identity, and to increase their privacy.
The third research question regarding internet users’ perceptions and attitudes towards the commoditization of their private and confidential information has been answered by all the themes that emerged from the coded results. End users have both security concerns and want data analytics firms to share the revenue derived from selling their data. Meanwhile, professionals from technology firms are concerned that the practice can cause security issues including espionage, and cyber-fraud. The results show that all internet users are against the commoditization of internet users’ data by analytical firms.
Limitations of the Study
The study utilized the purposeful sampling approach to select the participants for the study. Purposeful sampling ensures that researchers include participants that fit the target firms or aspects of interest relevant to the study (Campbell et al., 2020). However, the method is associated with a high likelihood of biases. For instance, the responses will specifically reflect the perceptions of the specific industries, organizations, or populations desired by researchers (Campbell et al., 2020). Consequently, the generalizability of the findings is limited to the industry or organizations whose representatives were selected in the study. Moreover, the study did not analyze the different methods put in place by online firms to safeguard their data. For instance, privacy and confidentiality policies have not been considered in the study. Given so, it is difficult to figure out the information that users allow the websites that they visit to share with third parties, and if users even read websites’ privacy policies in the first place. This omission can reduce the validity of the results if the privacy policies of the web organizations turn out to inform clients that they work with third parties and share some information with them.
Considering the risks associated with the commoditization of internet users’ data, online firms that store user information have to review their policies. For instance, regulations should be adopted to direct websites against sharing of users’ private and confidential information with third parties without consulting them. Doing so would eliminate issues of unauthorized distribution of internet users’ data to third parties thereby preventing privacy breaches (Khadam et al., 2020). In addition, internet users should not use the same details including passwords and usernames for different websites, and avoid entering their confidential information on websites of unknown credibility (Khadam et al., 2020). This will significantly prevent unauthorized parties from accessing and using internet users’ information. Moreover, internet users should form a habit of clearing cookies after visiting websites to prevent unauthorized data collection.
Commoditization of internet users’ data by websites has been found to have negative implications on user privacy, confidentiality, and security. The main issues concern that was found include fear of privacy violation, breach of trust, security concerns, and wealth inequality regarding revenue-sharing by websites from the sales of user data. Given these concerns, effective measures must be taken to manage the legal and ethical implications resulting from the commoditization of internet users’ data. In this regard, a multi-stakeholder intervention should be undertaken to develop regulations that regulate the practice. Users should also safeguard their sensitive information by using different passwords for different sites to minimize the likelihood of remote attacks.
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