The continued illusion of privacy

Each day that we continue to live under the ‘illusion of privacy’ is another day that we have squandered with respect to regaining control of this fundamental and protected right.

We have learned – and many of us have experienced personally – the fact that the technical means is readily available to expose and delve into every aspect of our lives and personal details.  

Each day brings new revelations and the frightening realisation that the majority of us have sleepwalked into this problem by being so willing (and complacent as) to sign away our rights to privacy when subscribing to internet and mobile services agreements, amongst others.

We now also know that our own governments are siphoning up all of this information to analyse, profile and spy on our innermost thoughts.

There seems to be no end to what this information can be analysed for, by everyone except those who actually have rights to it. Trust in these same organisations has now eroded nearly to nil in virtually every respect and yet we continue to allow them to use unfettered our private and PII details for whatever purpose they like.

It is clear that neither these service providers nor the government masters are willing to have an adult conversation about ‘practices and protections’ for ordinary customers and citizens, so I believe that it is time for all affected (en masse) to demand that their rights be protected, not only under current guarantees and laws, but through the crafting of a new ‘Universal Privacy Doctrine’ that will provide uniformity of protections across the globe. Without this, we all might as well accept that we have arrived in Orwell’s 1984 and embrace the horror of being under the thumb of Big Brother.

What might this Universal Privacy Doctrine look like? There are a number of organisations in the US, the EU, Asia-Pacific and other locations that are crafting versions of this ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’, with some threads of consistency amongst them. I believe that in order to be uniform this doctrine needs to be not only crafted in consistent fashion but also enforced similarly. Given the global reach of internet and mobile service providers, as well as many governments, there needs be no variability in the rules of law associated with privacy as a fundamental right.

>See also: A simple solution to the privacy conundrum?

How will it come to pass? The only path to success in creating a Universal Privacy Doctrine is to harness the global outrage that continues to rise with regard to data breaches (PII and financial information), government spying, data brokering, customer insights (predictive marketing and selling), etc.

Consumers/citizens speak with both their votes and their wallets, and must exert pressure on governments and corporations not only to change their practices, but also to drive this global initiative to success or face the financial and political consequences.

Only a grass roots-driven approach can amass the support and momentum required to move these entrenched entities away from the growing abuses that they are committing. Tweaking existing laws and practices will not suffice and should be construed as subterfuge by all.

One final note of irony is the fact that one of the major online dictionary companies has deemed ‘privacy’ to be the word of the year for 2013. Really?

A growing lack of trust

We are now living in a world where there are almost daily disclosures of either breaches of personally identifiable information (PII) or government spying on a massive scale. Each of these activities exposes the consumer/citizen to having their most private information disclosed to unauthorised ‘data traders’, who then aggregate and match these details along with others to create the so-called ‘360-degree view’ of a particular individual or mine this data for behavioural patterns and predictive models.

All of this has eroded trust to its lowest levels in virtually all regions of the world. Adding some true irony to this phenomenon is a competition between commerce and government to shunt the blame for this away from them and onto others.

Trust is hard to attain under the best of circumstances, but once lost it may never be regained again. If we cannot find a way to protect and maintain the guaranteed privacy of our consumers/citizens then the ubiquitous world of ‘the internet of devices’ may never come to fruition.

>See also: Google ignores privacy pleas of EU data regulators

Moving in reverse

In spite of a legacy of privacy laws and regulations that have somewhat served the needs of consumers/citizens in the past, we now find ourselves in a world where regulation is moving in reverse.

It seems that both commerce and government toot their privacy regulation horns when it serves their PR needs, but behind the scenes each is doing their utmost to either scupper or delay significantly the enactment of new or updated laws and regulations.

An example of this is the EU Data Protection Act, which has already been delayed to 2016, based on the lobbying of commerce/internet services providers and may now fall apart altogether due to parochial arguments by each EU member regarding ‘home country’ concerns.

This, along with other delayed initiatives in the UN, the US, etc, lends credence to the notion that nobody really wants to protect privacy. 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...