In the digital age, your personal information is no longer just the information you provided when you open a bank account or an account on Facebook, eBay, Amazon, etc. It is also the information collected by technology and can also include activities taking place offline. From the websites, you visit to the things you thought about buying but didn’t, as well as the more obvious: “what” you bought, “when,” “how often,” your payment methods, location data, pseudonyms and online aliases, and virtually everything about your online communications. The list of what is tracked, recorded, stored online is ever-growing.
Your identity now has a detailed profile attached to it based on this tracking data and it is becoming nearly impossible to know exactly what this profile includes, who it may be shared with, how often it is shared, or for what purposes.
There are two ways to see the data that is being collected and used by all these companies. The first is metadata, which is data that provides information about other data and we are told this does not include any personal information on the people whose online behaviour generated this data.
The second is data that is assigned to your personal information under the guise of performance marketing, which is about improving target marketing for goods and services that are more relevant to you. Through tracking, your online behaviour, which is also your personal information, has now been elevated to a personal profile. This type of tracking in particular (often driven by graph-theory based approaches) is shockingly precise, and can be used to track identities across non-associated networks, by analysing the way in which online personas interact with the web.
Another word for this is surveillance.
As concerning as this is, it’s creating even larger concerns. Such as:
- What information about yourself do you legally own and control under privacy laws?
- How can you prevent or retard the quantity of online information being added to your personal profile by so many companies?
- How do you know if your data is being provided to, or sold to, third parties, or to the government for their surveillance?
- Data brokerage is a $200B business. So ‘YES’, your data is being sold
What is Privacy?
Privacy is the ability of an individual, or a group/entity, to seclude themselves, or information about themselves. There are privacy laws in place across the globe that in various forms acknowledge and enforce these rights.
Privacy law refers to the laws that deal with the regulation, storing, and using of personally identifiable information of individuals, which can be collected by governments, public or private organisations, or other individuals.
Unfortunately, the reality is that we have fewer rights than we think when it comes to our privacy. Unsurprisingly, the effort that third parties are willing to put forth, toward protecting consumers’ privacy is minimal, if not non-existent. Particularly when dealing with corporations or governments who have large incentives to disregard citizens’ privacy altogether. The cost of fighting back quickly becomes far too high for the average person.
As an example, in 2015, the French administrative regulatory body ordered Google to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person. Google challenged this and in September 2019 EU’s top court has ruled that Google must comply with this ruling, but only for Google searches within the EU, not globally.
Even the EU courts have compromised our individual rights to privacy, to the benefit of a non-EU-based for-profit entity.
Global Change to Privacy Laws and Personal Profiling
As technology enables more data about individuals to be gathered and used to generate profit by corporations and by governments around the world, there must be a change in how entities may access and use personal information. Transparency and controls around online and offline tracking need implementing, and consumers’ interests must shift the permissioned access away from the entity collecting this data, to the owner of the data.
As this won’t happen quickly, or universally, it’s important that individuals take back control over their privacy to reduce the quantity of information that is being gathered about their activities and used to build their personal profile.
Reclaiming Your Privacy
Whilst technology is responsible for the increased surveillance and personal profiling used by corporations and governments, technology is also the best means to protect and reclaim our privacy.
However, technology is just a tool. The real driver of protecting your privacy is you. It won’t be legislation, as it is the governments themselves that are seeking more information on their citizens. And as seen in the one example above about the French administrative regulatory body requesting Google to remove data from their search engines, laws are not keeping up with the profit-focused interests of corporations.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Privacy
Encryption. Encryption is what you can do to protect your privacy.
Encryption is the process of converting information or data into a code, especially to prevent unauthorized access. It turns your personal information into “for your eyes only”.
Many companies are striving to improve the privacy and security that they offer their users and customers and are continually investing in better encryption software and techniques. One of the most recent advances in technology that offers a significant advancement in privacy and security is Blockchain.
Private data on the blockchain is protected by cryptography and is stored using decentralised ledger technology (DLT) as opposed to be centrally stored. Breaches of centrally stored data have been making headlines over the past few years were the biggest 10 data breaches in 2018 alone that affected 2.438 Billion personal accounts.
More detailed information on these data breaches here: on Avast Blog
I propose that the greater concern is not the hacks that we know about, such as the list above, but how our personal data is being used that we don’t know about and have no control over.
The decentralised nature of Blockchain coupled with cryptography provides varying degrees of anonymity, confidentiality, privacy and greater security. This enables the protection of your personal information while still allowing required elements of your data to be used in by providers of goods and services.
This article was assisted in part, by correspondence with Biz, Lead Developer of The Blur Network