Privacy has been a growing topic of debate over the past year. Already a cause of concern due to years of worsening data breaches as well as corporate and government surveillance, the subject has taken on even greater urgency in 2020. With the global COVID-19 pandemic forcing a massive shift to remote work and schooling around the world, digital privacy is more important than ever.
But what many of the current conversations around privacy miss is a major evolution of the nature of data itself. While most of us think of data as being generated online – for instance, our social media activity or web-browsing history – the pandemic has accelerated the use of data from physical smart devices. This includes computers and phones, but a growing number of tools made necessary by the pandemic, like digital assistants, webcams, smart TVs, even VR headsets. The huge amounts of data these devices generate is expected to reach , meaning privacy is no longer a simple story of internet searches and online purchases.
It now touches many of the key, everyday processes we use to navigate through this new reality.
Traditionally, corporations – not consumers – have owned and custodied information, which is stored in centralized servers and shared with numerous third parties. If we maintain these older models of data management, the risk of hacks and security breaches will only become more severe. This year saw an increase in high-profile hacks of devices such as home doorbell cameras. Such breaches demonstrate the ways in which smart devices can put people’s privacy and safety in danger like never before.