Technology has taken its toll on our privacy protections. The majority of things individuals or organizations do are now in the public domain. Third-parties monitor, collect and use personal and organizational data, patterns, and preferences. Many new business models rely on the storing, organization, and resale of personal data.
Blockchain technology could limit the impact of this decline of privacy, while still allowing us to release personal information when convenient.
The following series of blog posts will explore the impact that data generation by individuals and organizations may have on privacy and how blockchain could offer a solution for these privacy-related issues.
Impact of Privacy Issues on Individuals
Privacy is important to individuals because their personal information is valuable to marketers, organizations, and other individuals. A common saying on the internet is — “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.” This means that if a company offers free services, such as social networking platforms, often your personal information is the product.
In the majority of countries, privacy is essential for the exercise of various constitutional rights such as the rights to free speech, free association, free press, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and protection from self-incrimination. If the citizens are not sure that the state will ensure their privacy, they may restrain themselves from speaking up about important topics. Especially if their opinion is controversial or unpopular. Knowing you are being watched could also prevent meeting with like-minded people. Whistleblowers (people that expose organizational wrongdoings) could be less likely to do so if they cannot stay anonymous. So, as technology moves forward, the countries have outlined the limits of state behavior.
If it is said that information is power, then protecting that information can help a person negotiate with organizations. For example, health insurance companies could use negative health information to charge particular individuals higher premiums or to deny coverage. So, individuals have an incentive to prevent such information from becoming public. Public release of health information can also be awkward or embarrassing to a person’s social or professional life.
Financial information is another area in which personal information empowers its possessor. People do not want the banks to know about their poor credit score they had years ago or anyone to use their personal information to commit financial fraud or similar malicious actions.
While people have to give personal financial information often when paying taxes or taking a mortgage, if such information becomes public, it becomes of interest to various actors. It’s interesting to malicious actors, to corporations seeking customers, charities seeking donors, and political candidates seeking donations.
Some of the issues with this may be that people may not want their financial information used by companies to determine the maximum amount they would be willing and able to pay for something which is generally available for a lower price. For example, a booking website showed the same hotel rooms to Mac users at higher prices than to PC users. This shows that even a small pieces of personal information, such as whether a person uses a PC or a Mac, can be useful to marketers in gauging the financial capacity of a person, in a way that most people would find uncomfortable.
Studies have proven that people act differently when they know they are being watched. So, at a fundamental level, privacy allows a person to act in an inspired, intimate, or silly manner, without fear. Just as people intuitively close or lock their front doors, they desire privacy in their interactions with technology. As explained above, there are many reasons for organizations to collect personal information. Savvy organizations make efforts not to violate individuals’ expectations of personal privacy, because personal privacy is inherently valuable: it allows people to be themselves and act in an uninhibited manner.
The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking platforms has changed expectations regarding internet privacy. People who use these platforms publish personal information and agree to share it with either limited audiences or with everyone. However, even people who don’t want to share their private information can feel pressure to do so for career or marketing purposes. Employers often perform an online search for candidate employees. While no results are better than bad results, today’s job candidates generally aim to use the internet for marketing themselves, either by creating a LinkedIn account, or showcasing accomplishments through a personal website, blog, or article.
In the first part of this series, we explored how privacy issues affect individuals. In the next part, we will explore the impact on organizations and in the final, third part, we will see how Blockchain can help us overcome these issues.
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