COVID-19 is the first pandemic for the digital community. There has never been a time before when such a massive amount of data about consumer behavior could be collected over such a short period of time. Over the months of self-isolation, even the most dedicated adherents to the offline world allowed themselves to be digitized. They looked into the abyss and the abyss saw them. There is no coming back.
Engineers of ‘digital souls,’ or digital string-pullers, opened almost every door to consumers and provided them with unlimited and formally free access to their online resources – under a plausible pretext of taking care of self-isolated people. There was no access without registration. And consumers bought it in masses. For a couple of months, they forgot that free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap.
Porn sites, online adult shops, online casinos and betting companies, online streaming services, therapy, fortune-telling, astrology, medical, educational and many other services. The pandemic was a truth serum for society. It may appear that people were completely lost to shame as they revealed the most intimate things about themselves, from preferences in sex to buried childhood fears and memories – everything that they would definitely want to hide before the coronavirus.
Consumers’ digital nudity is truly mind-blowing. A deadly threat, fear for one’s future, forced solitude and many other extreme factors forced society to ignore many risks, including on the internet.
Meanwhile, for hundreds of millions of users of shareware content, this digital Klondike may well prove to be a minefield. A delicious carrot in front comes with a painful jab with a stick from behind.
Who and how will take advantage of the windfall array of user data around the world? Will this customer experience be used for the greater good, as a springboard for a new technological breakthrough? Or will it be put to the service of digital enslavement?
These questions are extremely important. The post-coronavirus reality will require new standards of online behavior. Consumers will need more rigorous protection from cyberattacks on their values, needs, and preferences. Perhaps, countries will need to think of adopting copyright laws protecting consumers’ digital selves, their online avatars.
Accordingly, they will probably need to significantly expand the list of personal details that are not subject to widespread use by the owners and developers of online resources, and to introduce regulations of online customer experience in general to avoid abuse.
A user’s digital footprint is, in fact, similar to cryptocurrency, in terms of its value. In the meantime, fortune favors the bold: the situation has loosened user tongues while the developers of online products and services have their leeway, and there are no restrictions whatsoever on the use of personal data they get a hold of.
The new horizons are unique and unlimited. The prospects are incredible. The digital Klondike is unlikely to be kept waiting for new prospectors. Whoever owns information owns the world; this statement has never been truer.
By Igor Pylayev, Co-Chair of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) Committee for the Development of the Film and Television Industry