We should all be aware by now that 2018 was a watershed year for digital privacy and data protection, marked by one Facebook or Google scandal after another.
Leading with Facebook Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony, a massive hack, and revelations of corporate smear campaigns were only the tip of the iceberg. (Refer also to: A bug may have exposed the unposted Facebook photos of millions ; Facebook is using your two-factor-authentication phone number to target ads ; Facebook has been collecting call history and SMS data from Android users; UK Parliament publishes Facebook secret documents showing ‘whitelisting’ firms in return for access to data)
The Facebook privacy issues revealed last year should not overshadow other important revelations like: Strava’s heat map exposing military locations; The giant Marriott hack or Google’s already obsolete Google+ bug that may have exposed private data from millions to its third-party apps;
It’s important to acknowledge the above and understand that some tech companies, and unfortunately some of the most trusted ones, not only harvest gazillions of users’ data but also employ flawed systems to use, share and profit from it. The zenith of privacy invasion played out in a report that alleged both Facebook and Google partnered with banks and bought financial data in secret, trying to get access to yet another sensitive category of private user information.
The aforementioned tech companies, and many other less well known, put their profits before your privacy, and actually built business models that demanded it. In addition, there is nothing FREE and we the users are often the product being monetized. By itself there is nothing wrong with a consumer getting a free service and enabling profit for the service provider through some element of behavior and/or identity, as long as the profiting entity makes disclosures around business practice, doesn’t abuse the user’s trust by violating their own terms, and has no hidden tradeoffs that a user only finds out about after the fact.
So, what is next for 2019? It could continue with other giants like Microsoft, Amazon or Apple, especially with the latest digital assistant trend, but at this point it would only be speculation.
In any case, we should keep protecting our devices and be aware of which free or paid services we use. Put simply, we must be aware of and take action around our own digital identity.
To that end, great things happened as well, in the context of privacy, during 2018. Moreover, we salute and support initiatives like Europe’s GDPR law, trying to get back more privacy for consumers, but currently far from perfect in practice. It is still worth supporting and following how it will succeed in combating the most sophisticated tracking methods, like browser fingerprinting. Besides the European Union, many publications and organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, started drawing attention to the ways Google, who owns the most used browser and largest tracking network in the world, uses its power to protect its own interests rather than protecting its users.
The good and the bad around privacy, in 2018, further validated the need for privacy awareness and tools, therefore fueling our conviction around UR Browser, including the addition of more simple-to-use privacy features.