Increasing awareness of spying is creating a demand for devices that offer true privacy. However, actions to restrict surveillance increase vulnerability to criminal attacks and vice versa.
Stories of governments and corporations spying on each other and on citizens are commonplace. An article by the BBC runs through some of the concerns about spying and provides a few insights from tech industry insiders.
Pim Donkers, the co-founder of ARMA Instruments, says that “People do not seem to understand that security and smartphones as one [single] concept simply don’t exist.”
The July 2021 scandal with Pegasus spyware on iPhones and Androids is a clear illustration of that. Notably, the hackers installed the software remotely via “zero-click” attacks. Instead of tricking people into clicking a link to download malware, they simply pushed it onto devices with a text message.
In August 2021, Apple announced it was working on a way to scan iCloud messages for illegal content. This would help restrict criminal activity. However, it would also create a framework for heavier surveillance in general.
While a lot of consumer products boast privacy features, those are geared towards keeping out criminals. For governments and corporations, access is often easy. Ironically, increasing surveillance also adds more vulnerabilities that criminals can use.
A New Direction?
The public is skeptical about the effectiveness of privacy measures. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey shows that over 60% of Americans surveyed believe that a life without the government or companies collecting data on them is impossible.
Harder-to-reach data like location and viewing preferences may not be available to just anyone. However, companies can still draw on it for targeted advertising. Many feel this is intrusive and manipulative.
Co-founder of Xayn, Lief-Nissen Lundbæk believes the increasing awareness of surveillance is igniting a global movement for privacy. He says: “Technology can actually protect our digital privacy and give us back our autonomy along the way.” VPNs are a good example of this.
It remains to be seen if “privacy centric” tech will catch on.
While the demand is there, governments and corporations have far more to gain from the current setup, which allows them to harvest data easily.
Will entities invest in tech that limits that potential?