The Trend Toward Data Privacy

Many of us remember the days of Web 2.0 with fondness. It was a time of optimism for the potential of the Internet and its ability to connect people across the globe.

Back then, warnings against putting too much personal information online were often dismissed. Consider the fact that, even as early as 1991, company managers were cavalier about the need for improved security controls in the Internet age, saying things like, “Can’t do it and still stay competitive” and “We’ve never had any trouble, so why worry.” It makes us wonder just what senior executives were saying when data privacy issues entered the equation…

Data Privacy in the Early Years

By the 2000s, companies had realized the value of having access to huge amounts of personal data. Because privacy was so difficult to define, the business community “seized upon this lack of clarity to distort debates about the true costs of privacy,” reported the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in 2002.

As a result of self-serving studies published by big business in those early years, the public discussion around privacy remained mostly one-sided, noted EPIC, with much of the available information “overstating the costs to businesses, ignoring the costs consumers incur to protect their privacy, and understating the benefits that privacy offers to commerce and to society.”

It may sound unbelievable today, but businesses were actually pushing the idea that:

  1. consumer demand for privacy is irrational, and consumers are unaware of what’s in their own interest;
  2. the trafficking of personal data always benefits individuals; and
  3. assessing the value of privacy should be based only on monetary costs and benefits.

Of course, that’s because businesses had a vested interest in spreading the fiction that privacy isn’t very important. And back then, privacy just wasn’t on most consumers’ radar as much as it is today – especially for young people.

The sudden proliferation of social media, from MySpace to Facebook and Twitter – and later Instagram and Snapchat – led to users sharing more personal data online than ever before.

“In a rush to embrace the advantages of sharing information on the Internet, many young people have created online data banks [that] are extremely difficult to remove,” observed Caroline Cockerill, family safety advocate for Symantec, in 2009. “They either don’t know or forget that much of the data is searchable by anyone, and in many cases legally retained by the sites themselves, or stored in caches, even when the data appears to have been removed.”

But this laidback attitude eventually started to change, as privacy issues began to crop up more and more in the public consciousness.

The Shift in Perception

Over the years, highly publicized data breaches involving people’s most sensitive information prompted increasing attention paid to data privacy.

One of the first extremely large data breaches in the U.S., exposing 134 million credit card records, was announced in early 2009. Later came the biggest data breach in history – all 3 billion Yahoo accounts that existed in August 2013 were compromised, revealing users’ real names, email addresses, dates of birth, passwords, and security questions and answers. (Information about the Yahoo breach slowly trickled out in 2016-2017, with massive media coverage.)

Then the news stories repeated over and over: eBay, Ashley Madison, Equifax, Marriott Hotels, and others suffered huge data breaches. The realization that our personal data is extremely valuable, and vulnerable, began to spread.

Of course, billions of Internet users willingly allow the collection of their browsing history, location, and demographic information – as a trade-off in order to make their online experience more personalized and seamless, for instance – but what happens when that data is used for sinister purposes?

In early 2018, we heard the explosive story of how consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to 50+ million Facebook users’ personal data – without their consent – and used it to profile and influence voters during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Facebook came under fire for allowing this to happen… and continued to make headlines as it mismanaged users’ personal data again and again.

As we previously covered, numerous major data leaks have happened just in the past year – and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better. The number of incidents continues to increase year over year, and the response from companies remains lackluster. Empty apologies just aren’t good enough. (Check out our previous post on the topic here.)

People want change.

Data Privacy Today – and Why It Matters

With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented last year, comprehensive privacy laws are already being enforced in the EU – and as demand for similar legislation grows from citizens in the United States, we’re up next. Several much-needed bills about data privacy have already been drafted.

What’s more, at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, privacy was a major focal point, we discovered – and the hottest topic at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was tech regulation and data governance.

There’s a reason for this. Privacy is a fundamental human right… and consumers, businesses, and governments are starting to wake up to that fact.

At LatticeWork, we pride ourselves on our commitment to innovation while respecting users’ privacy. When designing our product Amber – the world’s first AI-powered All-in-One Smart Storage Platform – data privacy was our number one concern.

We’re pioneering a new way forward in the digital storage industry, so you’ll never again have to sacrifice privacy for convenience. Learn more about Amber and its groundbreaking technology here.