2018 was a year of awakening to the dear side effects of technological innovation on privacy. The news from Facebook’s mishandling of users’ data has raised concerns everywhere. We saw misuse of private information for optimizing business goals and abuse of personal data as a platform to serve mind-washing political influencers posing as commercial advertisers. Facebook is in a way the privacy scapegoat of the world but they are not alone. Google, Twitter and others are on the same boat. Adding to the fiasco were the too many examples of consumer services which neglected to protect their customer data from cyber attacks. 2018 was a year with rising concerns about privacy breaking the myth people don’t care for privacy anymore. People actually do care and understand what is personal data though their options are limited and there is no sign 2019 would be any different.
So how did we get here? A growing part of our life is becoming digital and convenience is definitely the number one priority and a luxury possible thanks to technological innovation. Conveniency means a personalized experience and personalization requires access to personal data. The more data we provide the better experience we get. Personal data is made of information provided by the user or indications of user activity implicitly collected using different digital tracking technologies. The collected data is fed into different systems residing in central computing facilities which make the service work. Some of the data is fed into machine learning systems which seek to learn something insightful about the user or predict the user next move. Inside those complex IT systems of the service provider, our data is constantly vulnerable to misuse where exposure to unauthorized parties by mistake or intention is possible. The same data is also vulnerable just by the mere fact it resides and flows in the service provider systems as they are susceptible to cyber attacks by highly motivated cyber hackers. Our data is at the mercy of the people operating the service and their ability and desire to protect it. They have access to it, control it, decide who gets access to it or not as well as decide when and what to disclose to us about how they use it.
We are here in this poor state of lack of control on our privacy since the main technological paradigm dominating the recent 10 years wave of digital innovation is to collect data in a central manner. Data is a physical object and it needs to be accessible to the information systems which process it and central data storage is the de-facto standard for building applications. There are new data storage and processing paradigms which aspire to work differently such as edge analytics and distributed storage (partially blockchain related). These innovations hide a promise to a better future for our privacy but they are still at a very experimental early stage unfortunately.
Unless we change the way we build digital services our privacy will remain and continue to be a growing concern where our only hope as individuals would be to have enough luck of not getting hurt.