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The Future of Data Privacy

Category: Blog

Betting on the future of privacy

The New Year just passed, and this month, as we celebrate Lunar New Year, we’re once again reminded that making and keeping resolutions are key to our health and prosperity.

As a Westerner living in Asia, “prosperity” is not something I innately think or talk about.

Culturally for me, I think the closest sentiment would be “success.” As I reflect on the many Lunar New Year greetings I’ve come across, what’s been weighing on my mind is the notion of “success”. And I think that any conversation about how we view success will surely need to address the issue of privacy.

It’s a heavy topic that’s dominated headlines in 2018. Almost weekly, the news show that top technology companies continue to demonstrate wilful neglect of the tacit trust that consumers have put in them.

In January, for instance, Twitter announced that it’d discovered a security flaw that made private tweets (messages) public when certain changes were made to accounts. #Oops.

From security breaches to widespread sharing of user data with third parties, Facebook, Amazon, and other companies have come under close scrutiny by members of the media, regulators, and users.

How much data about us do these companies actually have? As consumers, how much say do we have about how companies use our data when we use their services? What do we find acceptable in exchange for the benefits we get?

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take a greater stance in protecting the privacy and data of users. He also implored the US Congress to pass “comprehensive federal privacy legislation,” a move that might mimic Europe’s implementation of data privacy law in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The chilling truth–Most people crave privacy but behaviors indicate otherwise
Not a week goes by when a celebrity, politician, or even a brand doesn’t say something online that causes a backlash. Even the revered organizing consultant, Marie Kondo, had to clarify her position on throwing out books. While people will tell you that they care about privacy, their online behaviors often contradict their attitudes.

The issue of privacy is important because it impacts how companies determine their policies in every aspect of their operations. Where I think we can draw both our lessons and our mistakes is from looking at examples in science fiction stories (Sci-Fi). Privacy is an issue, I believe, that gets addressed quite well in this genre.

Like many of you who work in the technology space, I’m a big fan of Sci-Fi. More than any other category of storytelling, Sci-Fi has the ability to illuminate and explore issues percolating through our collective consciousness. Whether its politics, economics, religion, technology, or science, sci-fi has a way of tackling the zeitgeist in a world that sometimes seems to make little sense.

Want to see what a world devoid of ethical concerns, driven only by desire could look like? With shows like, Black Mirror you don’t have to look too far. If we ever wanted know what the future could look like should we choose to callously digitalize all aspects of ourselves, this show provides a chilling reflection.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series offers us an uncomfortable glimpse into many possible futures with technology at the core. My favorite episodes, “The Entire History of You” and “Arkangel,” are both based on the concept of implanted chips that capture all a person sees, hears, or does. The implications of a technology constantly recording someone’s life is an interesting question to ponder by itself. But the implications of what happens when other people can also access or hack their memories adds an even more complex and frightening aspect.

What if organizations had access to those experiences as well? What if a higher power recorded everything you said or did? When put into this context, an unexamined life may not be such a bad thing.

Privacy at the core of what you do
Sci-Fi has a way of scaring us into seeing the dystopian possibilities of the misuse of technology (and science). The issues of data privacy and data use have become high-level issues because for a long time, users have neglected to understand what they say and do online can have unexpected effects.

And companies have been similarly callous in how data is being handled. “We know we need to do better” seems to be the salve that leaders append to public apologies, as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg did at Davos in January.

Rather than an apology tour, it’s imperative that companies take care to infuse privacy into their DNA. At Curvature, much of what we do is help companies maximize the use of their current equipment, but also promote sustainability by recycling or repurposing legacy equipment. Like any business that delves into clients’ IT infrastructure, the trust we establish with our customers is paramount.

It’s why we treat privacy with the utmost priority. From our asset disposition, our rigorous independent certifications and our independent third-party maintenance, we view data protection as a key concern for clients. It’s my opinion that security and privacy isn’t something you can make right after the fact.

The value of privacy has to be at the core of your business. It’s certainly in ours. When companies begin to bet their “prosperity,” let’s say, on consumer and user privacy, and make it a top-priority issue, that’s when both companies and consumers win.

Let me know what you think about this issue, and how the top tech companies can fix data privacy and protection. Do we need more laws to get companies on this? Are fines the answer?

Meanwhile, here’s wishing my colleagues, friends and connections celebrating the Chinese New Year “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (happiness and prosperity) in the year of the Pig!

 

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