Why you need encryption: Our digital data is an open market to tech giants

Why you need encryption: Our digital data is an open market to tech giants

I’ve long said that the tech-moguls of Silicon Valley have, truly, more power than the corrupt politicians and lobbyists populating D.C.. If these past few years have been any indication, we’re nearing a cultural tipping point where our digital data will be, possibly, more important to our everyday lives than our physical ones.

We’re quickly becoming a working and consuming cohort organized by our digital identities. Cloud-based storage systems, e-commerce purchases, social media postings, and other iterations of digital data are quickly lending themselves to something akin to our fingerprints—which is to say our online presences are, there as much, as important as our physical ones.

In fact, it’s estimated that the average Western (European and United States) user will generate around 20 gigabytes of mobile data alone. (That’s not even taking into account laptop or computer generated data at, say, coffee shops or other Wifi hubs.) And in just a few years time, the vast majority of those gigabytes will pass through cloud storage services; currently, most digital identities are stored in on-computer storage devices like solid-state-drives and SD cards.

But a bigger question still looms in the background: is there any anonymity with this data?

"Our definition of personal data in the DPA [Digital Protection Act] refers not just to information that is readily to hand, but also to information that you are likely to obtain, so it takes a much broader perspective,” says Bridget Treacy, leader of UK Privacy and Information Management practice at law firm Hunton & Williams. “I think therefore it is quite hard for companies to seek to anonymise data but still hold the keys that unlock it. Sometimes a trusted third party can be utilized to ensure the data sets are not combined."

Our smartphones track our movements; our emptied online shopping carts keep tabs on our purchases; our social media feeds weave our interpersonal relationships together with common digital threads. And, lo-and-behold, the boundary lines between our physical selves and online avatars become quite blurred.

What’s arguably even more worrisome than the ambiguous nature of big data are the in-place policies and regulations that safeguard it from overexposure. Spoiler alert: there’s little in the way stopping tech moguls like Google and Facebook from downright buying large parts of your digital identity for their own uses; much of these purchases are founded on the notion of creating internal growth, giving certain specific leverages to said buyer.

And consensual use is something of a foreign idea to these data leechings.

"Currently, consent is not always needed, but often individuals think their data can only be processed if they've given their explicit consent to it", adds Treacy. "There is, more broadly, an increasing expectation by individuals that they should have the ability to give or withhold consent whenever their data are going to be used [...].”

So, suffice to say it’s about time we all get on the encryption bandwagon to thwart any unwanted privacy breaches on our behalves.

(Feature image, courtesy of Pixabay)