Keep all your searches private.

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In 2019, the interest in privacy and privacy solutions went mainstream. 

We saw this not only in the growth of apps and technology that protected consumer privacy but in companies taking action beyond mandatory compliance. 

Apple’s Tim Cook called for stronger privacy regulation, and the New York Times reported healthy ad revenues in Europe after they ended the use of ad exchanges and behavioral targeting.

For governments, the General Data Privacy Regulation in Europe globally set the first privacy bar 2018. GDPR celebrated its first birthday in 2019, and, by the close of 2019, 27 significant fines had been lodged, totaling €428,545,407. 

In 2020, the California Privacy Protection Act (CPPA) kicked off the new decade. This law is the strongest consumer data privacy protection in the US and some say it will be the guiding force behind driving US privacy protection.

The regulation says that consumers have the right to know what personal data is being collected about them, whether their data is sold or disclosed, and to whom and the right to say no to the sale of personal data. Consumers are also entitled to access their data, request a business to delete any personal information about a consumer collected from that consumer; and, not be discriminated against for exercising their privacy rights.

Privacy is no longer about who sees your latest social media post or where you go on the internet; it’s about knowing who you are, what you believe in, and what you feel. Data is not just your name and address; it’s the digital version of who you are in real life. 

Let’s take a brief look at how our personal data fared in 2019.

FTC TAKES ON FACEBOOK

Facebook was penalized five billion by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019. The fines levied against Facebook included misleading users about how their data was used and allowing third-party apps, like Cambridge Analytica, to collect and use data without user consent. This fine is 20 times larger than any previous fine imposed on a company for cybersecurity or privacy violations. As a result of the fine, Facebook has to submit to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy. 

HEALTH PRIVACY VERSUS BIG TECH

Concerns over acquiring health data by big tech brands such as Google caused privacy concerns in 2019. One of the most prominent cases in the sale of health records to tech companies was Project Nightingale, a partnership between Ascension Healthcare and Google. The initiative involved the transfer of the personal health data of around 50 million patients to Google’s cloud-based platform across 21 U.S. states. Privacy experts criticized the deal because it was done behind closed doors, and no patient or practitioner consent was taken.

FACIAL RECOGNITION EVERYWHERE

The use of facial recognition sparked grave concerns in 2019. In China, a new law mandated that a citizen who registered a new SIM card must also submit a facial recognition scan. This process is now a part of an identity check required for mobile phone users in China. In the U.K., which is one of the top 10 most surveilled cities in the world (coming in at number 8), facial recognition came under scrutiny by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for becoming ubiquitous and often unnecessary.

KIDS AND PRIVACY

In another ground-breaking fine, YouTube was fined $170 million by the FTC for violating the privacy rights of children. YouTube and their parent company, Google, were in non-compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by not collecting parental consent to collect the data of their young users.

THE RISE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Surveillance capitalism was coined by author Shoshana Zuboff who published the epoch-defining The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” in 2019. Zuboff’s book draws attention to how companies are using personal data to drive new models of commerce. Zuboff argues that companies like Google and Facebook have persuaded consumers to give up their privacy for the sake of convenience and how personal information that’s gathered by these companies is not only used by others to predict our behavior but also to influence and modify behavior. Surveillance capitalism is a wake-up call for consumers to create a new digital future.