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The Billion-Dollar Privacy Equation

Published on March 29, 2018

In the digital era, where privacy is at the heart of discussions and concerns, where debates are fueled by revelations about Facebook and where lawsuits are initiated by European legislators against Facebook, Google and Amazon, many people are questioning the influence of the Internet on tomorrow’s society and its impact on our habits, values and fundamental rights that govern our everyday life in the real world.

Internet experts, legislators and several privacy protection groups believe that the fight over privacy policies and the monitoring of personal data will extend into the next decade. However, they are split down the middle when it comes to the likely future of online privacy. Advocates of a “Public Internet” believe that governments and companies will continue to increase the already widespread monitoring of personal data from our private lives, and the analysis and monetization of our personal information. As for advocates of the “Private Internet,” they are confident that new approaches will emerge to enable individuals to better control their identities and access their personal information.

Setting the debate regarding how we should protect our personal data aside, there can be no doubt that we are more exposed than ever. In fact, the Web forces us to increasingly share our personal data to obtain information and to exchange and/or make purchases. However, why do we have to do so in the virtual world, when in reality, we can go into a shop, ask for advice and complete a purchase without having to give any personal information?

How can the Internet serve individuals and organizations without going against our rights, values and lifestyle? Is there a place for industries and sectors – such as healthcare, financial, legal and education – that are particularly sensitive to information confidentiality? How do we enable interactions between students and teachers or healthcare professionals and their patients if the confidentiality and ethical rules that govern these interactions in real life are not taken into account? Will the “public Internet” model, along with players like Facebook, Google, Amazon and others, dictate the standards of our digital life that are a part of our daily lives in this mobile era? Is there a choice on the horizon?

These questions have remained at the discussion stage, while the main communication, social networking and shopping platforms are now struggling to provide adequate solutions to protect the personal information of users without hurting their business models. In fact, these platforms have sacrificed the rules of real-life interactions for the commercial interests of businesses.

The evolution of the Internet came at the expense of our private lives. Our digital personas have the same rights as their real-life counterparts and this is why technology needs to comply with the rules and habits of our lives, rather than the inverse. In other words, our online interactions and the laws governing them should not be different from those in real life.