From facial recognition to virtual assistants, our ability to remain truly private is steadily narrowing. But that doesn't mean we're powerlessby Tola Onanuga / August 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
As enormous data breaches become the new normal, we are being forced to confront how much we truly value our privacy. Major incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which harvested information from 50 million Facebook profiles, and a security breach at British Airways, which affected 500,000 customers and led to a record £183m fine, are just the tip of the iceberg. A study in February found that British firms saw around 10,000 data breaches in the past year. Last year, the EU brought in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and research shows that the new regulations are helping to drive European data breaches into the open.
But should we have fewer expectations that our personal details will remain private in the age of social media and overt surveillance?
Not according to Matthew Rice, the Scotland director of Open Rights Group, which works to preserve digital rights and freedoms. “Privacy is a fundamental right,” he says. “One that at times can be tested and strained, but individuals should not lower their expectations of fundamental rights. It is governments and private actors that have to change their expectations of access and they need to show greater responsibility.”
Access was at the heart of the row over FaceApp, the photo-editing software that launched in 2017 but experienced a sudden surge in popularity due to a viral “old-age” meme a few weeks ago. Rumours spread that users were unwittingly granting the Russian company permanent access to all photos on their phones, which would then be uploaded to a server in the country for nefarious purposes.
The FaceApp furore died down after evidence proved that the mass photo theft claims were inaccurate. The incident led to many questions, however, about the ways our personal information is being used by tech firms. Over the past year, consumers have become more compelled to seek answers, as Rice explains: “The UK’s data protection authority saw almost double the number of complaints from the public in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18. This indicates a growing concern from the public but also a growing awareness that individuals can make complaints about practices that they are concerned about, or they feel are in violation of their rights.”
Still, governments could be doing much more to engage with the public on the issue. Rice points out…