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What will happen to digital privacy?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sainsbury's)

Data is all around us – from mobile phones to laptops, smartwatches and smart homes. At the same time, data is also one click away from falling into the wrong hands.

We live in a digital world where more data is being created and captured in every aspect of our daily lives. With digitalisation continuing to grow around the world, many services are becoming more and more data-driven. Whilst the collection of users’ personal information can help to enrich consumer experiences and opportunities, it’s important that we as a society are aware of the potential risks and threats when sharing personal data online.

The last ten years has highlighted that this sharing is not only a risk, but sometimes a certain danger. As we continue in 2020 and beyond, it’s important we reflect on the year ahead and what could happen to digital privacy and data protection – so that we can continue to help keep everyone’s sensitive information safe.

1. Government regulations will arise, allowing advanced security and control over user data

As we see it now, governments will continue to exert stricter control over user data and tighten security. This may be blamed on intensifying terrorism and instability in the world and worryingly wide access to users’ personal information from businesses.

2. There are likely to be greater risks

While the rationale behind the above is clear, enhanced access to user data naturally implies many risks, such as unauthorised access and consequently compromising privacy or even leaking information.

The biggest challenge posed to regulating parties will always be constantly adapting regulations at the same speed new technologies are developed. We currently don’t see a huge trend in companies changing their behaviour in dealing with user data. The only improvement is that users are being asked to give their consent over how the data is used, and it now being mandatory in many countries. We don’t see any strong trend in adding real-life security for protecting sensitive user data. Moreover, there’s already a growing gap between regulation and real-life practice. With the latter being much faster, we have ‘toothless’ regulations as a result – not strong enough measures in place.

Advice for consumers here is simple – try to limit your data-sharing patterns online. Avoid exposing your data and sensitive information unless it is necessary.

3. Privacy tools will increase, fueling the cyber-battle for privacy

The trends outlined above will clearly drive privacy protection technologies. Tech-savvy users will know their way around such solutions, with more technologies arising to circumvent them – inevitably extending the arms race in this area.

At the same time, users will become more proactive when it comes to their privacy, and this will influence higher demand for password managers, VPN services, tokens for two-factor authentication (2FA) and special privacy solutions. However, protection mechanisms like 2FA tokens and password managers are just at the endpoint, while attacks and misuse are often happening at the backend. These tools are good and needed to protect the local environment but do not protect against attacks and abuse of the utilised systems (e.g. the cloud). VPNs are useful to protect against data collection in certain scenarios (like real IP-addresses, geolocation) but still do not protect against voluntarily-shared data by users with services (e.g. Google, Facebook, etc).

Advice here is for consumers to keep an eye on new ways to protect privacy and use only trusted solutions. Invest your time in exploring the issue, because security of your privacy is not just a new luxury – it is as essential as brushing your teeth every day.

4. Viral entertainment apps are going to be here for a while

Amusing online tests and other applications that gamify the processing of user data harvesting and collection will still be around, as they bring engagement to owners and entertainment to users. However, they do so whilst compromising data security – and this is why their enduring popularity should not stay unnoticed, nor underestimated.

Advice here is to, if possible, not take part in unnecessary applications, and not to share private information. Nothing comes for free, and if something does – it is mostly paid for with your discreetly-collected data.

5. New practices and methods of protection will help combat fake news and the spread of disinformation

These attacks have happened for many years already – and there is no reason for them to stop. The upcoming decade will open yet another round in the political pendulum of global society due to a new US presidential election – and new technology for fake visual and audio IDs already exist. These two factors will bring undesired attention and abuse from all sorts of parties. The good thing is that where there is action, there is also reaction – and we can definitely count on new methods to withstand the risks of public manipulation.

What does this have to do with privacy? Well, if you’re not vigilant, your data could be exploited in these manipulated visual and audio IDs. To protect yourself from this, do not expose yourself if you are not sure that you are dealing with a proven and truly secure platform.

6. Internet of Things vendors will invest in security solutions for the future

The last few years have been very turbulent for the cybersecurity industry. Hacks and specific malware, data breaches, geopolitical tensions and disinformation campaigns across the globe – you name it – have all caused challenges. Research has revealed that only two-fifths (41 per cent) of consumers are more worried about their digital and online privacy than their offline privacy, despite media hype and high-profile data breaches.

We think that this sort of activity will push vendors to a new level of collaboration for the sake of security. Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance have announced the creation of a new working group to develop and promote the adoption of a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among IoT products, with security as a fundamental design tenet. Hopefully, others will follow their lead.

Moving forward, the 2020s will be an interesting decade for the cybersecurity industry, with both challenges and opportunities – especially in regard to data privacy.

Marco Preuss, Director, GReAT Europe