By Corey Petty
Social media and the rise of other rapidly evolving digital technology has made people more connected than ever. Thanks to the increasing amount of data that people (willingly) put out there about themselves, finding out the most intimate details about a person is often just a click or two away.
While the upside of this interconnectedness is better transparency for all, it also brings an unprecedented danger to personal privacy.
In 2018, social media giant Facebook was the victim of a major security breach that exposed the personal details of over 50 million users. Among some of the information leaked includes the username’s, hometown, and gender. Similarly, companies like Yahoo and Marriott have also been victims of hacking in recent years, with over half a billion people affected.
All of this sets the stage for a conversation on the importance of privacy and its role as the next basic human right, and every sector has a part to play.
For one, governments around the world are then realizing that protection of personal data is something basic they owe their constituents.
On May 25, 2018, the European Union put into effect the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an initiative meant to modernize laws on protecting personal information. GDPR fundamentally altered how businesses and organizations from the public sector could handle information on their customers, acting as a replacement for previous data protection laws that were created back in the 1990s. Among some of the stipulations include giving individuals easier access to whatever data companies have on them and stricter requirements for getting the consent of people whose information will be collected.
But programs like these aren’t just limited to the West. In India, a bill ordering companies with data on any Indian citizen to have a copy of the data in Indian territory has been passed on to the parliament. Thailand has passed their own version of the GDPR, much of which includes the same stipulations on data collection but adds the possibility of fines and imprisonment for violators.
NGOs aren’t exempt from the reality of data breaches either. AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organization, was the victim of a data breach exposing millions of applications with details like DOB, gender and email. Oxfam was criticized by data protection watchdogs after accidentally leaking the personal details of whistleblowers they had been working with in Haiti.
Unfortunately, NGOs have been stuck with a reputation of being especially susceptible to data breaches. Op-eds have been written exposing how many NGOs have built a culture where senior leadership lacks the technical expertise or understanding to make data protection a priority. There’s also the unfortunate truth that many of their beneficiaries wouldn’t have a platform to complain on if their data were mishandled.
But the good news is GDRP has forced many of these agencies to shape up, with data protection quickly shooting up to the top of their agenda. Some like Amnesty International have turned to releasing guidelines on data privacy not only for their employees, but for the general public as well. The guide contains directives starting out with first understanding which companies track you the most (Google, Facebook, and Twitter) and then segues into the best ways to navigate these platforms while still getting maximum protection. It even goes as far as recommending third-party protection tools, such as the anonymous search engine Duck Duck Go.
The private sector
In line with all these developments, the private sector has been forced to step up its data protection protocols. In the US, retailers including Walmart have rushed to add “Do Not Sell My Info” options on their websites and signage in stores after the enactment of a California consumer privacy law. This lets shoppers prohibit Walmart from selling their data to third-party companies. Even Facebook has released a privacy check-up tool which lets users easily navigate how their info is being collected and shared.
It isn’t just about big companies either. Small-to-medium enterprises are also being highly encouraged to follow the best security practices. Though they don’t have the same resources as their biggest counterparts, small steps such as keeping software updated and ensuring their data is backed up could mitigate the risks of a cyberattack.
There’s a financial benefit to observing data privacy practices. According to a study by tech conglomerate Cisco, businesses usually see an average return of 2.7 times their original investment when they institute data privacy practices. With over 2,800 companies in numerous countries participating in the study, it was also reported that companies who prioritized investing in privacy also gained a clear advantage over their competition. With this in mind, there may come a time when rather than just looking to comply with data protection practices, companies would be eagerly rushing to implement them.
The future of privacy
With privacy increasingly prioritized by just about every sector, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing products aimed squarely at guaranteeing privacy.
Our flagship product, the Status Mobile App, is exactly that. A three-in-one platform that acts as a secure messenger, crypto wallet, and a secure web3 browser, it uses blockchain technology to decentralize transactions and data storage. Furthermore, it also uses the P2P messaging layer Whisper to remove any third-party intermediaries from accessing communication altogether.
All of this is on top of end-to-end encryption and use of the Double Ratchet algorithm for additional layers of privacy and security. This means even if a data breach occurs and hackers get ahold of the private key needed to decrypt your message, they couldn’t retrieve your information.
Now more than ever, being equipped with the proper tools to protect one’s privacy is a must. Every sector recognizes the role they must play and the consequences if they fail to do so.
Privacy is no longer a luxury – it’s a human right.
Corey Petty is the co-founder and host of The Bitcoin Podcast Network, and is also currently the head of security at Status.im, a developer secure communication tool that upholds human rights online.