Privacy with Utility
The winds of internet privacy1 shift all over the place. Certain technologies like encryption have given us important moves forward in security, but then big platforms like Facebook or a million small ad tech outfits have taken us the other way with invasive trackers and mishandling of data they shouldn’t have and most of the time don’t need. But the prevailing winds over the past few years have moved, on net, positively toward a focus on protecting personal data.
The nuclear options deployed by the pro-privacy EFF advocate to combat internet creepiness are to delete Facebook, block all trackers, use burner devices, and tape over their webcams. Of course that type of response brings a level of security in exchange for utility and convenience. Events like the revelations around PRISM, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and countless corporate data breaches have made it common knowledge for everyday people what personal data many companies had, what could happen when that data is exposed, and how easily it happens.
Blockchain technology promises to enable a lot in this area, but most of it is still immature. On the political front the regulatory responses through GDPR and other challenges to corporate data handling have helped, as well.
There are many companies in the market now getting traction by safeguarding privacy as a central tenet. I like seeing these challengers to the BigCos of tech building secure, privacy-first products. They’re finding revenue paths that don’t require invasive, privacy-encroaching models with advertising, bending backwards to support “free” products.
But back to the original title of this post. The interesting thing today is that there are compelling tools to replace the high utility (but low privacy) products that seemed irreplaceable a few years ago. Indexing on security has felt like a trade-off against having quality products available to you. But now there’s been a renaissance for personal, secure products by companies being transparent about where their money comes from. DuckDuckGo is still ad supported, as is Brave. I’ve read a lot about Fastmail recently as a Gmail alternative, and they’ve gone with the all-too-unique business model of charging money in exchange for a service (how novel!).
You could use the terms “user data stewardship” or “security” interchangeably here and throughout this article. ↩