With GDPR compliance becoming a reality today, this month’s Trajectory Trends Breakfast explored the concepts of privacy, trust and transparency.
The question that opened our presentation was ‘Does privacy still exist?’. The wide range of yes and no votes within the room, as well as the caveats that came with them, made clear that this is a complex and subjective issue.
While change has been a permanent feature of the human relationship with privacy, the internet has vastly disrupted this nexus, and it has done so faster than legislators and politicians can keep up with. GDPR represents an attempt to regulate data privacy, but as the doubtless hundreds of e-mails you’ll have received asking you to re-opt-in to mailing lists and newsletters might show you, this is a horse that has long-since bolted.
Besides the professional angst that has come with GDPR, one of the most common themes I’ve seen played out on social media and in conversations with friends has been joy at the effortless cull of unwanted e-mails, the remnants of small opt-out boxes left unticked throughout your online life.
If, like me, you have a penchant for discounted beer-delivery subscription services and public wi-fi, many of these e-mails will represent instances where convenience or access have overridden concerns about privacy. Each of these instances alone may seem trivial but together these nodes of information can be used to create quite detailed pictures of individuals, serving as relatively accurate predictors of voting intentions as we have seen recently with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, or pregnancy, as in the case of one family in Minneapolis.
This may or may not bother you – and you may or may not consider these examples to be breaches of privacy – but within the current business model of data giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google, it is difficult to see a future in which you can have your cake and eat it when it comes to convenience and privacy.
Writing for Pew Research Center in 2014, Niels Ole Finnemann, a Professor of Information Studies at the University of Copenhagen stated that “The citizens will divide between those who prefer convenience and those who prefer privacy”.
The above quote might represent an acceptable version of reality now; if you really care about the privacy of your data you can go a significant way to keeping it to yourself, but you likely forego the benefits of bank accounts, mobile communications and access to online services. It looks likely, however, that a time will come – if it has not already – in which going unbanked, or not having access to an electronic device will represent an impenetrable barrier to social inclusion, particularly if forms of e-governance are introduced and your participation in democracy is compromised.
Research by Carnegie-Mellon University published in 2012 showed that it would take the average person 76 working days to read the various privacy policies acquired in the process of existing in the modern world. At present, businesses can turn around and say, “if you don’t have the time to read the terms and conditions, don’t use the service”. When this becomes a form of social exclusion, however, we are likely to see regulators turn their attention to these impenetrable documents, with convenience perhaps a requirement for information about privacy, rather than its binary opposite.