What does privacy actually mean in an age when everything we do is being watched? When data acquisition is a part of our everyday life. Our personal data is constantly at risk of being shared over the internet? As the World Wide Web’s 25th birthday approaches, it seems appropriate to review the progression of digital privacy protection in a bid to foresee what the future has in store for us.
As far as privacy protection is concerned, the internet still has much to learn. Sometimes it feels as though businesses are experimenting with our personal data, either for personalised promotion, targeted advertising, or sketching down a potential new customer profile.
It’s true that consumers benefit from a user experience tailored to their individual needs that also enables new sources of value creation, however, recent findings have shown that internet users often feel as though they have no control over how their personal information is stored and used by third parties. Julia Angwin, a privacy activist who led a ‘Wall Street Journal’ investigation into the software used by companies to target customers, has steadfastly attempted to protect her digital privacy. This, however, requires a commitment most consumers are reluctant to make, not least because it requires them to forego using popular internet services. Even the most privacy-conscious internet users, who are no strangers to secure browsers and burner phones, lack an impregnable privacy solution that encompasses their complete digital footprint. Existing measures, like apps or management solutions like Silent Circle, only protect users’ communications through their smartphone, which is grossly ignorant of today’ s multiscreen digital experience. Companies can use cross-device tracking techniques to access profiling data from multiple sources, further compromising a user’s ability to remain anonymous. Recent advances in deep learning and natural language processing will also make it harder for consumers to protect their conversations from prying ears.
Unfortunately, legislative changes geared towards safeguarding personal data online is likely to take time, owing to a laxity with personal information that would never be acceptable in the offline world, a general lack of awareness surrounding the ways in which it is being used, slow moving regulators, and a tendency amongst consumers to overlook T&Cs protecting malicious developers. Administrations should be forced to publish simplified versions of their T&Cs via apps, just as it is mandatory for medicines to be dispensed with information about side effects, and telecom adverts are obliged to disclose associated fees.
In the wake of several high-profile security breaches of recent years, consumers have awoken to the devastating consequences of sharing their information online. However, it’s not all bad – increased awareness of the ways in which data can be shared and exploited helps to pave the way for a brighter future. Activism amongst consumers for regulations that protect their personal information is more important than ever. As a society, it is our responsibility to shift the focus away from business innovation, and on to consumer rights.