I had a brief conversation with a few close friends on Whatsapp on how to remain anonymous on the Internet and the role of governments and technology corporations in the fight to protect our data and privacy from being abused. As much of our life involves Internet, whether it is for work or personal use, the issue of our personal data and privacy becomes more overwhelming than ever. The question is who we can trust with our data: the governments or tech corporations.
Regarding governments, it’s safe to say that they haven’t done much to generate confidence. Many of my peers express lack of confidence in the governments to handle a huge amount of data and protect it from breaches. Worst, some said that data could be used to violate their privacy. For instance, the US government requested Apple to build a backdoor to iPhone. The Australian government wanted to build backdoors into encrypted communications apps. Even though I am convinced that having access to encrypted content may be required in some extreme cases (investigation, terrorist threats), the fact that the governments forcefully want to build backdoors to our device/data doesn’t really feel so good.
On the side of technology corporations, there needs no introduction. They are motivated to acquire as much of our data as possible. In some cases, they know about us more than we know ourselves. But they don’t actually protect our data well, to say the least.
Personally, I don’t think it is possible anymore to remain anonymous in this day and age. We are past the point of doing anything about the technology companies having our data. As long as we rely on their services for productivity and social purposes, we cannot avoid them. The same goes for the governments. When served with subpoenas, corporations have no choice, but to surrender our data.
Both have motivation to go against our wishes. Both don’t have our full confidence. Nonetheless, it’s not possible to choose one over the other. I believe that governments can keep technology companies in check with regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA or PCI. Citizens can elect officials who care about consumers/users to the office. On the other hand, technology companies can push the governments to evolve and not to slack off.
Each has a role to play in this check-and-balance system. It may sound idealistic, but I believe that it is our reality. Governments and big tech corporations are not going away any time soon and from our perspective as citizens/consumers, we need both to keep the balance. How will it be achieved? I don’t know. But I don’t think that it’s a zero sum game and that it is in our interest to favor one side over the other.