Privacy in 2021—5 Issues on the Agenda

We believe privacy will be a defining issue of the next 10 years and, as we step into 2021, we are already seeing some significant issues and developments in the privacy space.

Over at Dark Reading website, veteran tech journalist David Lemons summarizes it well: Technological and regulatory changes are on the agenda, as are continued widespread government efforts to gain “backdoor” access to encrypted data for law enforcement purposes. 

All of this elevates privacy in the global conversation, as we recently predicted. Here are 5 privacy matters that will continue to make headlines in 2021:

1. Government access to encrypted data – The US Department of Justice and its allies in the Five Eyes Alliance recently renewed their call for law enforcement to have “backdoor” access to certain encrypted communications. Advocates argue that while privacy and cybersecurity must be protected, it can’t be at the expense of fighting crime such as child abuse and terrorism. Those against this move say it’s impossible to give law enforcement access without breaking the encryption. The EU’s Counter Terrorism Coordinator is going further, calling for a “front door” approach where private companies are asked to devise solutions. This debate will continue.

2. Introduction of Apple privacy labels – On December 8, 2020, Apple started adding privacy labels to every app product page to give users a deep understanding of an app’s privacy practices before they download the app on any Apple platform. The privacy labels list the types of data the app may collect and whether that data is linked to the user or used to track them. 

We believe that Apple’s privacy labelling will force all app developers to think about the data they collect and its purpose, and this can only be a good thing for users. User can apply this highly visible data usage information to make informed privacy choices. Instances where companies do not play ball with the new requirements are likely to attract negative attention, possibly on a scale that would see the Federal Trade Commission step in. This level of data usage profiling is unprecedented and its impact over time will be interesting. 

3. Tightening regulatory conditions and consumer pressure – Increasingly, companies are being asked to rethink how to approach privacy in a rapidly changing landscape. In November 2020, California voters passed California Proposition 24 which lead to the new Privacy Rights Act 2020. The new Act tightens the screws on the California Consumer Privacy Act 2018 (CCPA) and establishes a watchdog agency to oversee and enforce privacy laws. The legislation reins in the powers of Big Tech, preventing them from sharing consumers’ personal information and closing a loophole that meant companies could keep targeting ads with user data even when those users opted out.

California has raised the bar with its privacy laws and let’s hope the response is national US legislation rather than a patchwork of state-by-state legislation. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming year. At the same time, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in full swing, with companies being fined for regulatory breaches. Other countries, such as Canada and Brazil, also have new or amended legislation. 

But it’s not only regulatory pressures on companies; it’s consumer pressure. In a nutshell: 

  • High profile, significant, and regular data breaches have spooked consumers. 
  • Consumers generally get that they must trade certain personal information for services but are now warier of sharing their personal data. 
  • Consumers want to control their own data and will do so if they can.
  • Levels of consumer trust for brands is generally low. 
  • Consumers will abandon brands or delay purchases where they perceive a risk to their personal data.

The key messages for businesses are: There’s an opportunity to deliver consumer applications with privacy at their core, and there’s a responsibility to comply with tightening regulations. Here’s more about what we think consumer pressure for greater data privacy will mean for businesses this decade.

4. Greater focus on unintended uses and artificial intelligence – When applied to data sets, technologies like machine learning and AI can have significant benefits, such as in healthcare, but unintended uses of this technology by companies and criminals raise new questions around privacy, consumer control and consent. As Davi Ottenheimer, vice president of trust and digital ethics at Inrupt, says in the Dark Reading article: “Just because someone makes something public does not mean you get to use it however you want, which is pretty well understood in terms of copyright, but not in terms of privacy.” Expect to see more about this in 2021 and beyond. 

5. Technological leaps and bounds – We’re seeing many more privacy-first products enter the market as consumer privacy, safety and trust gain traction as a recognized competitive advantage. As the 2020 PwC Trusted Tech report puts it, brands that get consumer trust and safety right will disrupt the market. At Anonyome Labs, through our Sudo Platform business privacy toolkit, we help businesses rapidly produce branded cyber safety solutions to get out in front of their competition. Through MySudo, the world’s only all-in-one privacy app, we’re putting the power to protect personal information directly into consumers’ hands. 

Finally, the rapid and massive shift to remote work brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic will also elevate employee privacy. As Robert Lemos points out in his Dark Reading article, companies will need to consider employee privacy in their remote access solutions and monitoring technologies, and urgently. While we’re on the topic of COVID-19, businesses face increasing cybersecurity risks from the pandemic, and this issue will continue well into 2021.

Let’s see what the future holds.