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December 6, 2021

Privacy and the Shortfall of Cookies

We produce so much data every day we use a smart device and privacy is a real concern. From our laptops, tablets, smartwatches, and smartphones the data we produce accumulates. Even if you choose to not accept cookies on some web services, that same web service has probably sent you a web tracker with an email you subscribed to.

Regardless of how paranoid you are of hiding your personal details, somehow bits about you and your behaviors will likely get through. The current environment is holistically harvesting so much metadata from users. So, even though your data will most probably be encrypted, the streams of data about you will still reveal, to some extent, things about you and your behavior. In turn, you will remain a target for ads or other online surveillance.

A service advert you would like to use one day may pop up on your social media feed. You may legitimately be interested in using it. However, in the grand scheme of things, we all ultimately want one thing. That thing is privacy. Individuals and institutions alike want privacy. It is easy to see why the military or national security agencies may desire to withhold some of their information. It’s perhaps also easy to see why a corporation may want to do the same to maintain profitability and outperform its competitors. Even as individuals, if you consider the information you search for online, products you buy, and people you interact with, the idea of privacy instantly becomes crucial to sustainable use of smart technology for one’s self.

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No Incentives to Provide Privacy

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of demand for privacy. What is lacking is incentives to make that a reality. A report by Ernest and Young stated that the United Kingdom’s health data is valued at US$ 11 Billion. That’s just the United Kingdom. Of course, some of us may argue the matrix used to come to this valuation. So, regardless of how personal data is valued, the bottom line is the benefits of having access to this data are more tempting than not. Authorities want to know what their citizens are talking about. Enterprises want to learn about their customers and ensure their products or services are meeting their needs.

Affordance Theory

Affordance Theory could help us understand this situation further. Firstly, “affordance” refers to how users look at the functionality of something based on that thing’s design. This theory looks at the use of a thing by its stated environment, system, and what it offers to users.

Securing Privacy as the Default setting

We can not afford to have privacy as some negotiable addon. It needs to be a default setting for all users. Regardless of how well you secure your data, someone or something else connected to you will give away data about you. Therefore your metadata will have the opportunity to be used or misused by other entities. Now, governments or tech enterprises by themselves lack sufficient desire to make this a genuine and top priority.

The GDPR has somewhat failed. Instead of privacy is an option you decide to take or leave, it needs to be built into the very fabric of the infrastructure we use and given to us without having to be offered it. This may require a centralized and international infrastructure. Doing so would ensure that no single government or legal entity has some sort of leverage that others do not. In addition, there need to also be some perks to compliance that justify the efforts of those tasked to create such an infrastructure. It needs to be lucrative enough that not maintaining is unprofitable and a very bad idea.