This is a special article about privacy brought to us by David Freuden, a blockchain advisor at Monsterplay.
In our digital age, your personal data is longer just the information you provide when opening a bank deposit or an account on Facebook, eBay, Amazon, etc. It is also the one the technology collects. From websites you visit to the things you thought about buying but didn’t. And the more obvious: “what” you bought, “when,” “how often,” your payment methods, location data, pseudonyms, and online aliases. In short, virtually everything about your online communications. The list of what third parties track, record and store online is ever-growing. This a threat to your privacy more so since it is even possible to monitor the activities taking place offline.
How to find out who is collecting data?
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 and how often. And for what purposes.
There are two ways to establish that the companies collect and use information about you. The first is metadata, which provides information about other data. Third parties claim that it does not include any personal information on the people whose online behavior generated it.
The second is data that ends up being part of your personal information under the guise of performance marketing. The latter’s aim is to improve target marketing for goods and services that are more relevant to you. Essentially, it’s about tracking your online behavior, which then makes up your personal profile. This type of tracking in particular (often driven by graph-theory based approaches) is shockingly precise. The companies can use it to track identities across non-associated networks, by analyzing the way in which online personas interact with the web.
Another word for this is surveillance.
A major concern in itself, there are matters which are even more worrisome. 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 someone is providing or selling your data to third parties, or to the government for their surveillance?
After all, data brokerage is a $200B business. So “YES”, your data is being sold.
What is privacy?
It 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 pertains to dealing with the regulation, storing, and using personally identifiable information of individuals. The governments, public or private organizations, or other individuals may collect it.
Unfortunately, the reality is that we have fewer legal rights than we think when it comes to protecting our rights. 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. In September 2019, the EU’s top court ruled that Google must comply with this decision. However, only for Google searches within the EU, not globally.
Thus, 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 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. At the same time, consumers’ interests must shift the permission-ed access away from the entity collecting this data, to the owner of the data.
Now, this won’t happen quickly or universally. Therefore, it’s important that individuals retain control over their privacy. And reduce the quantity of information that third parties gather about their activities and use to build their personal profile.
Reclaiming your privacy
Certainly, technology is responsible for the increase in surveillance and personal profiling that corporations and governments use. However, it is also the best means to protect and reclaim our privacy.
Yet, don’t forget: it’s 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. The France/Google saga described above shows that laws are not keeping up with the profit-focused interests of corporations.
What you can do to protect your privacy
For instance, you can use encryption. It 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 it is stored using decentralized ledger technology (DLT) as opposed to being centrally stored. Breaches of centrally stored data have been making headlines over the past few years. In 2018 alone, the 10 biggest 10 data breaches affected 2.438 Billion personal accounts.
To conclude, I propose that the greater concern is not the hacks that we know about. No, not that. It is how third-parties use our personal data that we don’t know about and have no control over.
The decentralized nature of blockchain coupled with cryptography provides varying degrees of anonymity and confidentiality. As well as privacy and greater security. This enables the protection of your personal information while still allowing the required elements of your data to be used by providers of goods and services.
This article was assisted in part, by correspondence with Biz, Lead Developer of The Blur Network.