The issue of data privacy has become vastly more important in recent years. Anything under a spotlight—either through regulatory activity or through the media—gets a lot of attention. Recently, people’s personal privacy and data are in that spotlight, and rightfully so.
As consumers, we are finally beginning to realize that our data and information are valuable commodities—hugely valuable, in fact. Organizations use and collect data to sell us products and services, market ideas, and build digital representations of us so they can predict what we will or will not do, how we will behave, or what we will buy.
Not only have we realized the value of our data, but we’ve started to ask what organizations are actually doing with it—something that I think is a much-needed move in the right direction. We the people have now begun to take control of our own data and privacy, holding companies accountable for the way they harvest and use it.
Governments are starting to implement policy, but it is no secret that up-and-coming companies innovate far faster than governments can introduce regulations such as the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. Laws imposed by governmental bodies are usually about five to six years behind the innovators, who are constantly reinventing ways to use the data they harvest. That puts the onus of safe-use practices on the corporations that seek to profit from the data they collect, and they continue to have a lot of discretion in how they use that data. It is important, going into the next decade, that companies use this data responsibly and ethically, and some are beginning to step forward, stating their commitment to privacy, with two notable examples being Microsoft and Apple.
Arguably, the biggest challenge for our data privacy in the next decade will be 5G. As 5G rolls out globally, everything and everyone will become more connected than ever. When individuals start using 5G on their devices instead of Wi-Fi, they must remember that, even though the connection has changed, their personal data can still be harvested. IoT devices in the streets and in the home will all become connected with 5G. Your Alexa or your Google Home device, your car, and practically everything else will be constantly harvesting data and forwarding it to corporations for marketing purposes and to build your digital profile.
We must become more aware that the advent of a connected, convenient, 5G-enabled world brings with it the risk of creating an Orwellian society run not by governments but by corporations. As we use more technology, our personal data will be used in ways we never imagined—to sell us, to sway us, and to know us better than we know ourselves.
As we approach Data Privacy Day, its core meaning is more important than ever. Data is a hugely valuable commodity, and we are often giving our digital identity away without even realizing it. If we use Data Privacy Day to highlight the notion of digital identities, and how our online profiles are being created, refined, and constantly expanded, we can learn how to keep ourselves from being unnecessarily exposed and our data exploited—even in this incredibly connected world.
Stan Lowe is the Zscaler Global Chief Information Security Officer