Personal information issues are discussed in vague terms

Even before the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, there were also tendencies to monitor personal behavior picked up in socially critical situations. It was also the case after the September 11 attacks in the U.S. In many European cities as well, more security cameras were installed on the streets to tackle frequent terrorism attacks.

In these cases, many discussions were had where social justice or interests and individual rights clash directly against each other.

Meanwhile, in contemporary society, rather than being discussed in the context of such clear opposition, there are issues where information related to individuals is vaguely discussed.

For example, when we try to use software or applications on digital equipment or services on the Internet, in many cases the companies that provide them are collecting and using our usage history, and other information about us.

Certainly, in privacy policy, etc., the fact that the information will be collected and how the collected information will be used are disclosed in advance. Thus, if we do not like it, we could just decide not to agree with the policy.

However, privacy policies are generally embedded in the usage consent agreement. Thus, it is set up in such a way that we have to agree that our information will be collected and used in order to use the product or the service.

Many people nowadays, who are vaguely aware of this, have been desensitized to read the privacy policy or being bothered by it any more. Despite they aware that their information is collected and used, they accept it as something they have to bear to live in such a convenient world. Therefore, they do not take trouble to understand it clearly.

In fact, I made my students check to see how their information can be collected through the applications that they often use. They, after specifically knowing about it, had the impression that although they knew vaguely that their information was collected, they feel a little uncomfortable.

Even so, no student would stop using the relevant product or service just because of that. Basically, since using convenient services such as social media is already deeply incorporated into our lifestyle, even though we had some uncertainty or complaints about the related exchange of information, it is difficult for us to stop or change this. If we cannot change this anyway, it would be a reasonable choice to leave it vague as it is.

Companies have often used questionnaire surveys for long time as a method to collect users’ information. In this case, from the user’s perspective, we could use the product without answering the questionnaire. Thus, whether we agree to provide information or not could be determined by the user.

However, as mentioned previously, currently the system has become such that if we want to use the product or the service, we do not have any other choice but to agree to the information collection and usage related to it.

Recently, IoT is being developed for many items which are used in our everyday life, and this system will spread more in the future.

In such a system, reluctance tends to arise in the sense that we are agreeing without choice in order to use the product or the service with uncertainty and dissatisfaction about providing our information.

Consequently, many people seem to be in the state of mind that they are vaguely reconciling this reluctance by rationalizing that if they can use the convenient functions, they have to bear it; it is not only them who are providing information; or they have provided information so far but they never felt any problems or the like.

However, there are cases when such reconciliation collapses and obvious discomfort may emerge. Why does that happen?

Would you feel uncomfortable if your information was used without you having any personal advantage?

A few years ago, it was reported in the news that the usage information of IC cards of a certain public transportation institution would to be sold and this was talked about a lot. Perhaps many of you remember this.

It was explained that since the information for sale is not something by which individuals can be identified, it is not personal information and that the purpose of the company which would buy this is to analyze in which station, in which time frame, and which age group are mainly travelling and then to utilize it for marketing. However, the antipathy and mistrust from the users did not recede and the sale of such information was cancelled.

Whether it is caused by hacking or mistake in corporate information management, if personal information was leaked, it will bring about a large risk to people. However, in this case of a sales attempt of IC card information, the antipathy was against the company’s planned use of information with consideration for laws, and it has slightly different implications from information leaks.

So, why did this lead to a big row? This was already analyzed from many fields and various reasons were raised, but I think that one of the reasons was that it is related to ownership awareness in which we think that the behavior information recorded on the IC card is owned by someone.

Many of the IC card users continue to use the card, knowing vaguely that the information related to the card usage is collected and used by the transportation company.

They do not have a clear comparison of the pros and cons, or profit and loss calculation there. The reluctance to their information being used is reconciled vaguely with reasons such as they do not have to queue often to buy tickets or they will be liberated from the trouble of taking out their wallet in shops.

But what will happen when the factor of selling card information is added to that? They can explicitly imagine that the transportation company will generate profit because they will sell the information. On the other hand, for the card users who provided that information, it is difficult to visualize and grasp their benefit.

Such a feeling of unfairness collapsed the balance for reconciliation, and their feeling that they could not allow their information to be used while they have no advantage emerged.

Rather than the risks or disadvantages that were invoked by the use of their information, the cause of the row might have been the fact that the information would be used in a way that led to no advantage for themselves.

Personal consciousness and mechanisms of society based on the personal information utilization

In the U.S., where the use of personal information is advanced, giant companies called data brokers are collecting and analyzing enormous amounts of personal information, from which they create profiles or scores of individuals.

Then the companies and financial institutions buy such information and use it for employment activities and credit assessments.

Recently, so called platformers such as GAFA also entered the business using personal information and information utilization centering around companies, and business is progressing.

Meanwhile, we also see the movement to return the personal information ownership rights back to individuals who are the agents of the information and encourage individuals to proactively exchange or manage such information.

Numerous personal data store (PDS) services are provided, where personal information can be managed by the individuals themselves, and even a mechanism where people can sell their information to companies or pay the cost with their personal information is being prepared.

Under such circumstances, how will Japan proceed from now on? This is not known yet.

For companies to use the information that they collected and analyzed with their cost as their strategic resources, within the law, with consideration for individuals so that they will not be identified, is a proper business activity and it will increase more in the future.

However, as we have seen in the previous example, when the personal information is taken out of the relevant individual’s hand and used in various business, such individuals who are left behind might expose their reluctance and a strong reaction might be generated.

In that sense, the form where people’s information will be managed and utilized by themselves as their own properties might increase from now on. Last autumn, it was reported in the media that a social experiment was conducted in Japan in which the videos which recorded people’s lives in their own rooms were purchased for 200,000 yen per month. It was much talked about and perhaps many of you remember that.

Nevertheless, a question remains. Would normal people indeed proactively manage their own information by themselves? It is a problematic task and requires knowledge.

Amidst this situation, an “information bank” concept is drawing attention. It is a mechanism where people entrust the operation and the management of their information to the trustworthy organization instead of doing it themselves, and that the operation profit would be passed on to the individuals who are the information owners.

In any case, utilization of the personal information is expected to increase more than ever. As well as the situation where information on the individual’s actual behavior would be collected and used, there might be a situation where the contents of the used information would influence their actual behaviors.

In fact, in the U.S., the contents of their information are limiting the scope of services that they can receive or influencing their value in the labor market.

It may be less work and easy to vaguely reconcile with the situation, but we ought to consider this topic a little more carefully as our current problem.

To this end, as a first step, each of us should care about our own information. Such a change of consciousness would lead to the creation of a fair and equitable society, and it might be a first step for us to leave better things to the next generation.

* The information contained herein is current as of February 2021.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.