Privacy in the digital age

Posted on Fri, 11/10/2017 - 17:10 by avantgarde

Advances in information communication technology are dramatically improving real-time communication and information-sharing. By improving access to information and facilitating global debate, they foster democratic participation. By amplifying the voices of human rights defenders and helping to expose abuses, these powerful technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights.

But at the same time it has become clear that these new technologies are vulnerable to electronic surveillance and interception. Recent discoveries have revealed how new technologies are being developed covertly, often to facilitate these practices, with chilling efficiency, such surveillance threatens individual rights – including to privacy and to freedom of expression and association – and inhibits the free functioning of a vibrant civil society.

What has become of privacy?

There was a time when just drawing the window shades ensured a private sanctuary. But the digital age is less shade and more glaring light, on our personal data.

There has never been another time in history where privacy was under the kind of assault it is today, Consumers have increasingly digital lives and they are developing an unfathomably large data trail every day.

There is a perfect storm, involving digital lives, low-cost storage that allows companies to save everything, and the revenues that incent those companies to collect as much data as possible.

The long-term consequences on privacy are an unknown, but Internet users are feeling some fatigue and questions are flying as the law chases data sharing technologies operated by some of the richest people ever. In addition, technologists are busy designing tools intended to give end-users control over their lives online.

Each week users post 3.5 billion pieces of content on Facebook, according to social media firm HubSpot. 

It's not just the volume of individual pieces of data, but the aggregation of that data that starts to really raise the hackles of privacy advocates.

Lately, however, it is social sites, fed with user-created content, dominating the privacy news. Those sites have a thirst for information that aids ad sales and stimulates other business opportunities around data that defines a person and their actions.

Self-regulation, legal and end-user efforts have helped carve out some limits and restrictions on how data is used. 

There are other efforts underway to help users control their information and relationships online such as personal data stores, and Vendor Relationship Management.

Giving that sense of control back to users might just be a wave that could catch on.

If a shift in mindset comes about, it could be the start of significant progress that benefits both the Facebooks and the Googles of the world as well as the users of those sites and other technology that watches, records, and archives digital life.