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What Comes After Privacy?

Posted by Jeff Pelliccio on Oct 12, 2018 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights, hiring trends, Job Trends, IT, client, Legal and Compliance

Security is a huge concern in today’s society. The high-tech environment surrounding us makes it difficult to protect and prevent your personal identifying information from falling into the hands of salespersons, government officials, and wicked scammers. Cellphones, credit cards, and simply surfing the web all increase the risk of your personal information being gathered and used for the wrong purpose.

There are suggested actions you can take to keep your information private, such as asking Facebook to delete your browsing history. However, to keep your personal information 100% protected requires an abundant amount of time, energy, and expertise.

Once upon a time, the responsibility of protecting our private information was that of the individual. Now, however, it has become a risk that is beyond our control. Data collection is achieved in much slyer ways than it used to be. It is collected from our friends, contacts, and even strangers. Without your permission, information is often collected through the address books of friends and on various social networking sites. This vast amount of information is collected and distributed every day.  

Our personal information is now a part of the weakest link in the system, and we have to depend on cybersecurity for protection. Paul Francis, a researcher at the Max Plank Institute for Software Systems in Germany, questions whether we ever had genuine privacy or anonymity. Francis says, “All we can really hope to do is, piece by piece, get better at protecting privacy.”

Oddly, companies like Google and Facebook, who now play a key role in collecting and sharing our data that we work so hard to protect, may ultimately be stewards of it. The thought can be unsettling because if they don’t step up, there are those who are willing to do just that.

Let’s look at a few reasons we now find ourselves and our data so vulnerable.

Data Breaches

To start, we can look at a large-scale example that illustrates the importance of preserving group privacy, the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This is where an app downloaded by 270,000 people led to a data breach for 87 million Facebook users.

Yves-Alexandre De Montjoye, head of the computational privacy group at Imperial College London, shares that, in a hypothetical example, his group reported that if only one percent of cell phones in London were compromised with malware, half of the city’s population could be tracked continuously by an attacker.

Using Tiny Pieces of Information to Identify People

Increasing our vulnerability is the fact that it is amazingly easy to identify people with so little information, making it nearly impossible to keep our web browsing and interests anonymous. While Facebook, Google, and others claim they try to anonymize the information collected, in reality, researchers have accessed pools of anonymized data and individuals have been identified within the pools repeatedly.  

Current Data Protection Projects

In hopes to allow firms, like banks, to protect data internally, while staying compliant with privacy rules under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, a software company, Aircloak, co-founded by The Max Planck Institute’s Dr. Francis, has developed a software called Diffix. The software sits in the middle of the database and its owners, where specific queries are made, but never revealing the whole database.  

After an attempt to anonymize targeted advertising, Dr. Francis’ Aircloak team was ultimately forced to abandon the quest due to the numerous transactions that identify an individual. One example of this can be seen where medications advertised to treat specific conditions could involuntarily share information with others just by clicking on the ad.

If technology itself cannot keep your personal information out of the hands of today's technology giants, an alternative is to collect all personal information in one place, and a central authority could be in charge of handling the information. And perhaps this central authority could be some type of government entity. More so, this data could be encrypted with a cryptographically-secure universal ID. Everything from your income taxes to your health data and even your information relating to your finances could be attached to the ID. This type of technology allows people to e-file their taxes in under five minutes. It also enables people to access their health records and look at all changes that have ever taken place. The technology we are talking about is currently being used by Estonians. If you would like to take advantage of this type of information protection, you don't have to be an Estonian. In fact, you can become an e-resident, which allows you to use the technology to your own benefit without being an Estonian citizen.

Giving this type of technology to Facebook or Google may initially seem like a bad idea, but it could actually lead to an era where everyone's information is safe and secure. Because of the technology's use of a centralized repository, anyone who gains access to your data would first have to have your permission. More so, it would require that you be made fully aware that someone is asking for your permission. So readily today we grant entities access to our information without realizing that we are. We are hoping to see this type of data protection become a world-wide implementation. As it does, people will start to see how some of our data should be fair gain, while other forms of data tracking need to be eliminated altogether. The goal, however, is to increase consumer demand for privacy protection. As we become more familiar with how we are being tracked, we start to understand the importance of protecting our personal information. 

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