A while back, the New York Times reported that credit card companies were at the forefront utilizing credit card information from customers to determine who was a credit risk and who was not.
So deep was this scrutiny and analysis, that according to J.P Martin, it was possible to predict the riskiest bar in Canada based on the transactions on the various credit cards.
In recent times, tech companies and social media giants are at the forefront collecting massive amounts of information about their customers. Consider this though, how many users truly understand how much tech companies, service providers and social media platforms store and use that information.
Too many people are willing to surrender information for the convenience of cloud services and social connectivity without nary a concern about how that information is being used. To help understand how risky this is, here is a breakdown of the current state of internet privacy and what to expect in the future.
Big Data is hungry for your information
Big data analytics is a process by which relevant parties collect and analyze massive amounts of data, to try and unearth hidden patterns that may be useful or vital information such as customer choices or market trends.
The relevant parties then use the information to make informed decisions that are customer-oriented. Admittedly, this is a good thing because it allows organizations to anticipate your needs and deliver exactly what you need.
For instance, a company can discover that customers like a certain product more than the other one. With that information, they will pull the less popular product from the market and concentrate on customizing the popular product.
Thanks to the more time spent on this popular product, chances are high; it will serve the customers’ needs better.
However, note that for this to happen, the organization has to collect lots of information about you. The organization will survey your social media to see which brands you like. They will also go ahead and monitor your purchases to determine what you prefer in terms of clothes, electronics etc.
In essence, they will map your day to day behavior in a bid to form a data trail. Unfortunately, this data trail erodes your privacy and summarizes your life in facts and data points. That is just a scenario of what big data analytics is doing now, now consider the future.
Predictive analysis knows you better than yourself
As big data technology continues to evolve, experts predict that a time may come when social networks will be able to diagnose diseases. For instance, bots trolling social media posts will notice a user complaining of weight loss, night sweats, and increased fatigue. After putting these symptoms together, the bots will inform the user he/she might have lymphoma.
That will prompt the user to seek medical intervention early. However, there is a reason social media giants are already not doing this—the risks. Doctors take a solemn oath to do no harm. Can the social media platforms also prove that they will do no harm with a user’s medical data?
Moreover, what happens when a hack exposes the medical data to strangers. Also, what if a user is misdiagnosed with cancer? The emotional trauma and money spent seeking unnecessary treatment can be catastrophic.
Another scenario to consider is a situation where thanks to predictive analysis, an organization targets you as a sales lead. The company benefits for sure, but you might end buying something you never intended to buy and spend money you wouldn’t have spent otherwise.
The role of IoT in eroding privacy
With the Internet of Things, all manner of personal information is online for public consumption. For example, an HVAC system connected to the internet can reveal your exact location based on whether the AC or lights are on.
The system can also reveal what you are doing based on the quality of air in the room. If you are cooking, then it is slightly warm, if you are having a party, then the air is different as well.
On the other hand, if you use wearables, then all manner of information about your health is online—from your heart rate to your body fat. Bear in mind though; there is absolutely nothing wrong with having all this information online.
IoT has made it possible to control certain devices remotely enhancing convenience. IoT has also led to the development of devices such as smartwatches that make life easier.
If anything, now that you understand how privacy is eroding and will continue eroding in the future thanks to both big data and IoT, you are probably asking, what is so bad about it? After all, don’t the benefits outweigh the risks?
That is the question we are trying to answer. So, take a moment and consider how such a loss of privacy can backfire.
How the loss of privacy can backfire
For one, with singular companies holding such a big amount of data, it will make it very easy for them to manipulate the public. You do not have to think that far back to remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The conclusion is that the company used personal data mined from Facebook to influence the United States presidential elections. Think about that for a minute and realize that with well applied big data, a company can literally influence the public to do anything.
Similarly, the government can use the data to influence its citizens into passing certain laws, for instance, or into supporting certain contentious causes.
With regards to personal information from IoT devices, note that malicious people can use that information to track you, to steal from you to kidnap you and so forth. For instance, if a hacker can tell which room you are in using the HVAC system, he/she can maneuver around the house stealing as much as she/he likes.
That said, it is clear that this is the right time to start thinking about the future, about internet privacy in the future and how you can position yourself to ensure the adverse effects of loss of privacy do not affect you.
What does the future hold?
The future can only bring more loss of privacy. As IoT, big data analytics and machine learning continue to evolve and take root; privacy will continue declining. To protect yourself, you must begin taking care of your internet privacy now, and it will take care of you in the future.
The key to doing so is to learn about the basics of privacy protection and understand the privacy-oriented tools you can use to keep your privacy intact.
The tools include anonymous search engines. These are search engines that do not track your searches. Popular examples include Duckduckgo and Qwant.
Another tool worth considering is private browsers. Private browsers allow an individual to browse without storing caches or historical data that someone can retrieve at a later date. In that regard, everything you browse is completely private.
Additionally, you can use cryptocurrencies which uses blockchain and, in turn, can protect user data from governments and companies.
Finally, you can use a VPN which encrypts your communications, protects you from surveillance and deters hackers from accessing your personal information or tracing it back to you.
A collaboration from TechWarn