BLOCKCHAIN SELF-SOVEREIGN IDENTITY
This isn’t news; we know our names and contact info are just the tip of the iceberg. Myriad institutions store mass amounts of individuals’ data (e.g. social, political, financial, medical, etc.).
Where we go, what we do, and who we’re with is tracked and profiled, often in real-time (see: Google Maps Timeline).
Data is collected from various internet-enabled devices. This is the ‘Internet of Things’, which is expected to double in size over the next few years.
We also regularly allow ‘cookies’ to track our behaviour online.
Do we not want control of our data?
THE PRIVACY PARADOX
“[Privacy is] the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” – Privacy and Freedom (1965), Alan F. Westin.
- Allow drone traffic above their property;
- Give their mum full access to their browsing history;
- Invite an FBI agent to every Christmas dinner for a decade; and
- Surrender the naming rights of their firstborn child.
However, it’s more inconvenient to disagree, so we allow for contradiction.
BIG DATA & THE SHARING ECONOMY
Undoubtedly, big data is a modern necessity. For instance, the importance of age verification for child safety on social platforms can’t be understated.
Click here to find out which companies know the most about you.
Meta made ~$40USD per user in advertising revenue last year and users agreed not to be compensated. It’s why in 2012, Facebook spent $1B USD acquiring Instagram – a company which, at the time, had just 13 employees and now nets them $20B USD annually.
The global ad industry is using more personal data than ever before.
It’s normal for institutions in the modern ‘sharing economy’ to use big data. Consider how tailor-made the online ads we consume every day are. Or how Google always seems to be one step ahead in its search recommendations.
CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA & ‘SHADOW PROFILES’
During his 2018 appearance before US Congress, Mark Zuckerberg apologised for misuse of public data from 87 million Facebook profiles. This data had been provided to Cambridge Analytica, a former British consulting firm specialising in political advertising.
Most notably, Cambridge Analytica helped the pro-Brexit #VoteLeave campaign and 2016 US Presidential campaigns of Republicans like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Supposedly, Cambridge Analytica weren’t as useful as they claimed to be. Regardless, this should raise concerns about what happens to the data we share.
Facebook has the most monthly active users of any social network as of January 2022 – almost 3 billion people. Anyone can see there’s a discrepancy here. What about the other two billion people?
Basically, Meta collects data on everyone. Google does this as well. Both companies use this data at their discretion, without publicly declaring the full extent – and they don’t have to.
BAD ACTORS – CYBERATTACKS & ZERO TRUST
In 2013, Yahoo announced that data had been stolen from about one billion users. Four years later, they revealed that it was actually all 3 billion accounts on their platform. At the time, that was pretty much everyone on the internet.
Data breaches happen often and are becoming more common.
Consequently, there’s a current shift towards ‘Zero Trust’ cybersecurity, which involves replacement of the traditional ‘firewall’ with continuous monitoring and verification protocols.
ETHICAL DATA USE
Unauthorised use of personal data isn’t necessarily malicious. Consider how Lifeline Australia uses anonymised data for research, which is common practice.
Facebook data was used to monitor the migration of refugees during the 2020 Venezuelan border crisis. A Florida teenager has been tracking the private jets of Elon Musk and Russia’s oligarchs. And Target used to track women’s pregnancies, so they could send them coupons.
Obviously the use of big data is a mixed bag, largely because regulation and attitudes are still being formed.
The UN’s ID2020 Alliance hopes to create digital identities for the one billion people lacking official proof of identity by 2030. The World Bank has similar prospects for their ID4D Initiative.
State governments are largely left to their (read: their citizens’) own devices. Consider how data from wearables has been trialled in US court proceedings. In Australia, some government institutions have the power to take over people’s devices and accounts.
Societally, we’re still learning and adjusting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So, mistakes are being made. Take this recent IRS scandal, occurring as facial recognition technology becomes increasingly prevalent amongst government institutions.
More than ever, governments are implementing digital identity programs. The UK just hired consulting giant, Deloitte, to develop their own digital identity app. Nigeria just launched a blockchain-based digital identity system.
SELF-SOVEREIGN IDENTITY + PRIVACY ECONOMICS
Imagine owning all of your data in a secure and decentralised way. This is the principle behind ‘self-sovereign identity’.
The big data sector is also still evolving – time will have to tell how future technological developments (e.g. AI, Neuralink, the Metaverse, etc.) shape how our personal information is stored and used.