12/19/2018
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Privacy Futures: Fed-up Consumers Take Their Data Back

In 2019, usable security will become the new buzzword and signal a rejection of the argument that there must be a trade-off between convenience and security and privacy.



According to a recent Pew survey, two-thirds of Americans do not believe current laws are doing enough to protect their privacy, and six out of 10 respondents would like greater autonomy over their personal data. In an even more surprising turn of events, leadership at several leading tech companies — among them Apple CEO Tim Cook — are now encouraging smarter government regulation and data privacy laws. These shifts indicate a growing awareness and concern within the United States around data privacy and data protection.

In 2019, I predict constituents across the US will seek even greater data protection legislation from their representatives. In the aftermath of the recent Marriott data breach, for example, several members of Congress demanded cybersecurity legislation focusing on consumer protection and privacy, among them, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) who  asked for "laws that require data minimization, ensuring companies do not keep sensitive data that they no longer need …. and data security laws that ensure companies account for security costs rather than making their consumers shoulder the burden and harms resulting from these lapses."

Battle Royale: Authoritarian vs. Democratic
While the US has been, for the most part, sitting on the sidelines over the past few years, we've seen a steady march toward greater data localization laws that foreshadow a global battle over data security and privacy. On the one hand are authoritarian regimes that are implementing data localization policies to enable greater government access to both personally identifiable information and intellectual property. This digital authoritarianism includes Internet controls and restrictions, integrating disinformation, and limiting individual data access through various forms of censorship. One the other are the democratic nations that are using legislation such as  the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which favor the rights of the individual over government access to the data of private citizens.

Russia, for instance, recently announced greater oversight and harsher fines to existing data laws, which include requiring government access to encryption keys and storing Russian users' personal data in Russia. But Russia is not alone. According to Freedom House's Freedom of the Net, this form of digital authoritarianism is the most dominant trend, coinciding with eight consecutive years of rising global Internet censorship.

Conversely, GDPR and now the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) represent the emergence of more democratic models that focus on individual data protection and provide a counterweight to digital authoritarianism. Given these global trends — coupled with constituent pressure — the US will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its current patchwork of industry and state-specific approaches to cybersecurity and data protection. Expect to see the US step off the bench and put some skin in the game.

2019: The Year of Security UX?
While the United States will inevitably see additional forms of data protection legislation introduced in 2019, given the stagnation of current cybersecurity legislation in Congress and the nonstop mega-breaches, the public likely will not be satisfied to sit back and wait and see if legislation gets passed. In the last few weeks of 2018, the recent Marriott mega-breach, the National Republican Congressional Committee email hack, and the Facebook email dump have served as constant reminders about the magnitude of this problem. Given the confluence of corporate breaches, proliferation of attackers, and the global diffusion of surveillance and censorship, individuals want to take back control and gain agency in their own data protection.

The security industry notoriously lacks usability and often blames the user as the weakest link and source of all security problems. But in 2019, users will revolt against this and demand greater, more intuitive individual control over their data. The movement toward usable security will also drive security professionals to work closely with social scientists and user experience experts to ensure that incentive structures and human-computer interaction match those for the broader population of product users and consumers. Usable security will become the new buzzword and signal a rejection of the argument that there must be a trade-off between convenience and security and privacy. The public will demand both convenience and data protection, and there will finally be some progress toward true democratization of security for the masses.

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Dr. Andrea Little Limbago is the chief social scientist at Virtru, a data privacy and encryption software company, where she specializes in the intersection of technology, cybersecurity, and policy. She previously taught in academia before joining the Department of Defense, ... View Full Bio
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