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Privacy is the new killer app

Matt Weinberger | Nov. 17, 2014
You can't just be good. You have to be secure.

092514 ello
Credit: Ello

A funny thing is happening in the wake of the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, the infamous iCloud hack of celebrity nude photos, and the hit parade of customer data breaches at Target, Home Depot and the U.S. Postal Service. If it's not the government looking at your data, it's bored, lonely teenagers from the Internet or credit card fraudsters.

But there's a silver lining to the cloud: For probably the first time since the launch of Facebook, people are actually sitting down to think about their privacy and about who's doing what with our data -- specifically, what we're willing to share, and what we're willing to give up to advertisers in the name of easy sharing, constant communication and sweet, sweet validation.

And it's led to a new generation of apps where privacy is the feature. A report released by Forrester this week predicts that 2015 is the year when privacy becomes a competitive differentiator in technology, as users look for solutions that strike the right balance between secure and convenient.

In other words, privacy is the new killer app.

Cool or creepy?
"There is a maze of conflicting global privacy laws to address and business partner requirements to meet in today's data economy. There's also a fine line between cool and creepy, and often it's blurred," writes Forrester analyst Heidi Shey. 

That Forrester report is backed by a Pew survey released this week indicates that 91% of all American adults feel like they don't have any control over their personal data, with 80% of social network users reporting that they're concerned about how advertisers use their data and another 70% saying they're at least somewhat concerned about government intrusion. 

Now, there's just not much you can do about government intrusion -- thanks to surveillance-friendly legislation, if they want your stuff, they're pretty much going to get it, as evidenced by Dropbox CEO Drew Houston's infamous public admission that the platform is a "trade-off" between privacy and security.

But there's this concept in information security called the attack surface: The more code you run on more systems with more theoretical points of entry, the less secure you are, because a hypothetical attacker has more weak points to exploit. Similarly, the fewer places you put your stuff, and the tighter control you have over those places, the less likely you are to get snooped upon -- and the harder time advertisers are going to have to turn your personal life into monetized content. 

Ello, or good-bye?
Which brings us to today, and a new breed of technology that's less about finding extra ways to share stuff on the Internet and more about helping us do so in private. Take, for example, Ello, the new social network that resonated briefly but brightly with the younger set for its commitment to never, ever selling user data -- backed up by the adoption of a pioneering Public Benefit Corporation business structure that legally forbids it from doing just that. Instead, Ello plans to make money with paid features on top of the free product.


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