The Growing Privacy Disconnect

One of the unmistakable challenges of the digital age is the need to balance convenience with privacy. By now, it should be clear to everyone that today’s electronic systems have pretty much ended any semblance of privacy.

Corporations—and, in some cases, governments—keep an eye on everything people do. Web trackers, beacons and cookies—along with machine and IP addresses—leave an ongoing breadcrumb trail. Yes, programs such as Ghostery and Ad Blocker can thwart surveillance and intrusion. But, in the end, it’s impossible to escape the net.

Basically, if someone wants to assemble information about you, they are going to do it. If you’re reading this post, you’re already on the Internet, and there’s no escape hatch.

Tor, which beckons with the promise of completely anonymizing browsing data, is a mixed bag. It’s not always practical or easy to use, and it’s just as much a tool for trolls, cyber-thugs and criminals. What’s more, there are questions about whether it is truly secure.

Now, with the immergence of the Internet of things, the equation is about to become exponentially greater, and the data points are about to become a lot richer. Feed big data into an analytics program, develop algorithms and spit out results, and you have insights that wouldn’t have been imaginable only a few years ago. What’s more, these insights can and will be used against people—at least by a certain percentage of governments, companies and crooks.

Unfortunately, we worry about hackers gaining access to records and data—and rightfully so—but we don’t seem concerned about the fact that geolocation logs track every move we make. If you’re using a company-issued phone, what happens if a disapproving boss discovers that you’ve visited an adult bookstore or you spend time at a political organization he or she doesn’t agree with?

Similarly, anything we post in the cloud—including private photos—typically becomes the property of the company providing the service, such as Google Drive. There are no Fourth Amendment rights in the cloud.

You get the point. Laws and social policy have not kept up with the march of technology.

It’s natural for businesses—particularly marketers—to use whatever data they can, however they can, to drive profits. It’s also natural for some to step over the line, and a few to look for nefarious—and sometimes disgusting—ways, to profit.

Clearly, it’s time to develop a coherent framework and policies that match today’s privacy needs.