Where will the battle for privacy lead?

By Steve Whiter, Director, Appurity

August 2021

Giving users more transparent choices to protect their privacy and information

For businesses they are costly and burdensome to manage. For users they are prone to cause poor UX and they are easily compromised. It’s no wonder then that the overall prediction is for enterprises to shift to passwordless authentication for users as part of an overall digital transformation. The introduction of passwordless authentication throws out any reliance on passwords and delivers a better user experience, less headaches for the IT guys (time and costs) and better levels of security.

 However, we haven’t quite arrived to the point where passwordless authentication is easily achievable. It is difficult for any organisation to solve access challenges with any, one single passwordless solution. And it’s no different for firms in the legal sector. Complex and hybrid IT environments, administrative and running costs and compliance regulations all provide headaches when trying to serve up a universal solution. Firms have witnessed a massive increase in use of mobile devices amongst their workforce. And for any of their people, having to enter multiple passwords in order to access all available resources from a mobile device is fundamentally challenging. Especially so for key workers (top fee-earners), for whom access issues (and the associated downtime) can prove to be ultimately costly to their firm.

Security and privacy

It’s hardly surprising for Apple that its latest iOS release brings security and privacy front and centre. Ultimately, the goal for any operating system should be to make you and your data safer than ever before. For example, you will now know for sure if any particular app is using the microphone or camera to monitor via an indicator light (orange or green) in the top right of the screen. You can also now give apps certain permissions with respect to photos and locations, but with you retaining full control. It is likely that there are some apps you feel more inclined to trust with respect to accessing your photos or knowing precisely where you are.

Some would argue that the most pivotal update has been the introduction of ‘App Tracking Transparency’. Essentially, this requires app developers to serve pop-ups that directly ask people to opt in to being tracked across other companies’ apps and websites. Yes, you heard it correctly – apps will have to specifically request permission to track you across other apps and sites. Understandably, this is where the mobile-advertising world is up in arms. Although under pressure from perhaps the biggest player here (Facebook), it looks like Apple won’t be fully enforcing this feature just yet..

And Apple’s privacy stance hasn’t gone down too well in Germany either. An antitrust complaint filed at Germany’s competition agency concludes that Apple’s new enhanced privacy setting, could unfairly exclude companies from advertising revenues (while bolstering its own). The complaint was filed at the German Federal Cartel Office on behalf of the nine industry associations and companies that it represents (including Facebook).

In the face of all of this, Facebook (and Instagram) appear to be testing the ground by suggesting to users that they will charge for access on iOS 14.5 unless users give them their data. Screens have appeared on both Facebook and Instagram that unashamedly infer that if users agree to allow ads, then they are doing their bit to keep Facebook and Instagram free. Does this mean if users decline ads that both companies will charge for access in the future? We shall wait and see if this is all just sabre rattling for now.

Data and privacy

It can be argued that the concept of ‘big data’ is beginning to spiral out of control. Is there anything these days that isn’t being turned into data? There is a groundswell of feeling that disproportionate  (and centralised) power rests in the hands of private companies (like Facebook). And where is the accountability with respect to how any data collected or held by them is ultimately processed? Perhaps this explains Apple’s stance insofar as their privacy update goes. Do users change their online behaviour due to the increasing feeling of being watched by corporate big brother? Big data is certainly aiding and abetting this process. Within respect to Facebook, ad tracking is a massive data compiler allowing for industrial levels of data mining (your information). Understanding that personal data is being monetised by big business is a message that seems to be spreading, thankfully. Apple’s privacy update has made users aware this was usually being done without their knowledge or consent. What users share online (via social media for example) can be considered a public record.

If, ultimately, privacy is the right to be imperfect then a user should be able to interact online without fear i.e. not worrying about what link to click in case they are instantly categorised or not having to worry about making comments that later score them negatively in any way. Privacy and anonymity online look sure to become part of an ongoing battle to increase awareness regarding data mining and the information it reveals about all of us.

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