Tech Killed Privacy. Can Tech Take It Back?

Tech Killed Privacy. Can Tech Take It Back?

The last few technology conferences I have attended have been filled with talk about “tech lash.” People feel trapped by the tech companies that hoard your personal information and are tight-lipped about how they use it. At the same time, it’s hard to distance yourself from those companies and still function online. But is the solution hiding in plain sight?

The issue is that we don’t always know what specific information is being collected or how it is being sold, tagged, profiled and used. However, a small number of companies — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, plus Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — house a huge percentage of the information on the internet. That’s a dangerous thing.

Right now, there is no perfect privacy solution for the internet. At least not yet. There are pockets of privacy protections, such as encryption, adblockers and cryptocurrency. The problem is, they are all hackable and gameable. For example, some ad blockers reportedly allow cookies from companies that pay them enough. Cryptocurrency transactions aren’t encrypted, and if they were, encrypted data has a mathematical link to identifiable information if hacked.


And Other Suggested Solutions

Bitcoin has been championed as an option for securing financial transactions on the web. With Bitcoin or cryptocurrency, there is no mapping between users’ cryptographic key pairs and their real-world identities. However, there are many ways to de-anonymize transactions. In addition, the data is often unencrypted during the transfer over the internet and can be hacked or intercepted. Bitcoin is neither completely transparent nor completely anonymous, so its privacy capabilities are not guaranteed.

Bitcoin was built on the blockchain. Blockchain is a public database that holds transactional information in blocks, which decentralizes the data. Those blocks are secured through cryptography. That is where the privacy solution comes in — decentralizing and encrypting the data. However, as with Bitcoin, data in transit is not encrypted. Moreover, a stolen key to the block can unlock it and once it’s unlocked, the transaction history of the user(s) would be viewable. And like Bitcoin, pattern recognition can reveal a person’s identity.

Another use case of blockchain technology that has quite the buzz is creates a decentralized data set of your personal details, such as employment history and verifies that data. Then, the user can control what data is on the internet about them and who has access to it. That level of control helps with privacy and reputation management. Because it is built on the blockchain, it has the same risks as Bitcoin.

Another technology that has been discussed for years is federated data systems. Federated systems first came into play over a decade ago with the Liberty Alliance Project, which was a standards body trying to create protocols for sharing information across various organizations. The problem with federated systems is there is no financial incentive for businesses to adopt this practice.

So, what should you do about all this? Give your input to the Privacy Manifesto if you have opinions or ideas. Don’t willingly hand over your data to these companies. Mind your data like you would mind your cash. It’s valuable. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t want it so badly. Protect your data wherever you can. Use security products like Symantec to stop websites from placing trackers on you. Use Qwant and DuckDuckGo and Brave to keep your search and browsing practices private. Use an encrypted chat, social media and collaboration platforms where you can go to stay private.


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