Data collection, analytics and big tech: privacy in 2021

By Harry Menear
New predictions from Kaspersky point to data farming, government regulation, and privacy concerns as the factors that will define security this year...

The last 12 months have shown everyone the importance of an effective cybersecurity strategy. Cyber attacks spiked in 2020, as enterprises transitione d to remote work, e-commerce soared, and the world became more digitalised than ever before. 

Data has never been more valuable or required more vigilant security. 

This week, Russian cybersecurity firm Kasperskey has released its privacy and security predictions for the coming year, highlighting everything from behavioural analytics to government crackdowns on data hoarding by big tech. 

“Last year, many users realised for the very first time how much information they share and what they get in return. With heightened awareness comes better understanding of the right to privacy and how to exercise it,” commented Vladislav Tushkanov, a privacy expert at Kaspersky.

“As a result, privacy has become a hot-button issue at the intersection of governmental, corporate and personal interests, which gave rise to many different and even conflicting trends in how data is gathered and privacy preserved – or, on the contrary, violated. I hope that this year and in the years to come we will be able to find a balance between the use of data by governments and businesses, and respecting the right to privacy.”

Kasperskey’s report highlighted five key trends set to shape the landscape around privacy and security in 2021. 

  1. Consumer privacy is going to be a value proposition and will, in most cases, cost money. Increased data gathering during the pandemic, and growing political turmoil that crossed into digital platforms, have combined to yield rapid growth in public awareness of unfettered data collection. As more users look to preserve their privacy, organisations are responding by offering privacy-focused products – the number and diversity of which is set to grow.
  2. Smart health device vendors are going to collect increasingly diverse data – and use it in far more diverse ways. The data gathered by fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors and other devices provide insights so valuable that they have already been used in court cases, not to mention by marketers and insurers who also find it extremely useful. And with health being a public concern, the demand for such data will only grow.
  3. Governments are going to grow increasingly jealous of big-tech data hoarding – and more active in its regulations. Having access to user data opens up a huge range of opportunities – think, fighting child abuse or making city traffic more efficient. Also think silencing dissent. Yet, with most private organisations refusing to share this data, governments will undoubtedly respond with more regulations that hinder online privacy, with the most heated debates around privacy-preserving technologies such as end-to-end encryption, DNS-over-HTTPS and cryptocurrencies.
  4. Data companies are going to find ever more creative, and sometimes more intrusive, sources of data to fuel the behavioral analytics machine. Data-driven behavioral analytics is a dangerous game to play. Errors can be damaging to people, while the actual quality of these systems is often a trade secret. Yet, that will not stop organisations working in this field from finding more creative ways to profile users based on what they like and do – and thereby influence their lives.
  5. Multi-party computations, differential privacy and federated learning are going to become more widely adopted – as well as edge computing. As companies become more conscious about what data they actually need, and consumers push back against unchecked data collection, more advanced privacy tools are emerging and becoming more widely adopted, while big-tech organisations move to guarantee users’ new and strict privacy standards. More advanced hardware will emerge, enabling developers to create tools that are capable of advanced data processing, thereby decreasing the amount of data shared by users with organisations.

Tushkanov adds that, “On a final note, I’d like to assert that while as consumers we don’t have full control over our data, there is a lot we can do to reclaim some of our privacy and control of our personal data.” 

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