6 August 2021
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The new age game: I spy with my digital eye all your online activities.

Peter Switzer
22 June 2021

The Internet age has brought a virtual family of big brothers who can easily ‘spy’ on you, and not only go public with our behaviours but use it for their own money-making goals.

What worries me is this: who is the political champion who’s making sure this invasion of our privacy, our rights and even the raiding of our finances will be stopped, or at least regulated?

The Herald Sun has tapped into the data stored by the university student engagement platform QPay. While it was said to be “anonymised analysis” (i.e. names are taken out), it looked at what university students were doing with their time and spending during last year’s lockdown.

Here’s what the data analysis found:

1. Buy now, pay later (BNPL) services like Afterpay and Zip Co. surged 315%.

2. Adult sites, such as OnlyFans, boomed 129%.

3. Netflix purchases were up 29%.

4. Uber and Deliveroo food services were up 49%.

5. Student incomes also spiked (thanks to JobKeeper) and there were more jobs in the suburbs as more people worked from home.

6. Interestingly, women were 11% more likely to have a bigger income balance, which might say they earned more, but I suggest they actually spent less on some of these questionable services (though I could be wrong).

7. And in what is so typical of the new age, purchases of cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin, were up 23%, showing that our younger people are keen to get rich fast!

What does all this data tell us?

Firstly, BNPL businesses are what young people want and they’re likely to be popular for a long time. I see the tech companies of now as businesses of the future and the digital economy, which they leverage off, is only in its infancy.

Second, businesses that earn monthly income from streaming services are here to stay. This tells us that free-to-air TV businesses will struggle, unless they re-invent themselves.

Third, if the work-from-home trend becomes permanent for a decent chunk of the workforce, there’ll be businesses that will benefit from that development. Also, new businesses catering to that new cohort of workers will emerge.

Fourth, we were given an insight into how students dealt with their restricted social interactions. The CEO and co-founder of QPay, Zaki Bouguettaya, made an interesting observation about the big interest in the OnlyFans website. “The growth we saw in OnlyFans was crazy, and perhaps this is indicative of how some students coped with loneliness in lockdown during Covid,” he explained.

What is OnlyFans? This is it in a nutshell: “Launched in 2016, OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform where users can sell and/or purchase original content—typically of the pornographic variety. When utilized as an adult site, users will post NSFW — not safe for work — videos and photos to their accounts, which are protected by a paywall.”

That’s the new age. As someone who last week saw my Mastercard used by someone else, which only showed up when we checked our statements, it’s high time we have a politician champion our rights and privacy, as this fast-growing digital world becomes incredibly invasive and threatening.

When I thought about how someone got my details from my credit card to open a Sportsbet account and deposit $300, I had to wonder if it was when I bought something over the phone using my credit card. There we give our card number, name, and the three or four digit number that only the holder of the card should know!

Recently we checked into a hotel that wanted to copy my driver’s licence, after getting an impression of my credit card and all my details from my home address  to my email!

When my wife asked what the hotel would do with that information, the manager said it would be kept for three months and then destroyed. But for three months, an employee and a hacker could work nights and access that information, effectively under the cover of darkness!

So who in the hell in politics and government is thinking about the potential threats to our privacy, our rights and our finances? No one that I know! And if there’s someone or some official body he, she or it are well hidden and doing a pretty hopeless job!

Young people are a part of this digital, sign up and download everything era. ‘Older’ Australians are gradually going along for the ride. But when are the grown-ups going to start telling these big companies and fast-growing digital businesses to behave?

When we said we didn’t want to hand over all that information to a hotel, the manager said it was the hotel’s terms and conditions. My wife came back with a great reply: “Well, I have terms and conditions too!” This really shocked the guy but that’s a fact — we all should have terms and conditions that save us from being exploited or ripped off, but we need some political and regulatory muscle to make these new age companies embrace old-fashioned, fair values.

I’m going to keep whinging about this until some big brother politician, who cares about Australians, takes up the cudgel and takes on my space-invaders from the digital world.

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