Privacy: Silicon Valley’s Achilles Heel
In a recent survey of Quartz readers, it was revealed that the public had very little trust in major tech companies when it comes to privacy. The public’s trust in tech companies has plummeted of late.
Facebook had the lowest trust, at just 21% of users. To put that in perspective, that’s much lower than the approval ratings of both last U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
It’s clear that privacy has become a big issue in users’ minds, despite their high appetite for more tech. What’s not clear is whether these companies have yet realized that their inability to provide privacy presents a giant hole in their business models.
Here is a fuller snapshot of the public’s trust in tech companies handling their personal data, according to Quartz:
- Amazon – 46%
- Google – 42%
- Microsoft – 25%
- Facebook – 21%
To be fair, no company is perfect, and tech companies like Facebook and others are taking steps to address problems on privacy.
How do you choose products that care for your privacy and avoid the bad apples? This issue is of top importance in the minds of tech users. We conducted research to bring you an up to date list of product use recommendations based strictly on safeguarding your privacy.
The Approved List: Do Use These
Recommendation 1: DO USE Silent Circle
Silent Circle’s messaging app for mobile phones, Silent Phone App, caters to your privacy. The company provides the Silent Phone App for use on Android and iOS. If you are eager to keep your most personal messages private, the Silent Phone App could be just what you need. It encrypts communication end to end. In addition, the messaging app comes with scheduled burn functionality. This feature means that messages are deleted automatically on both ends of the conversation. The app supports voice and video calls as well as group calls. Silent Circle has other tools to enhance privacy in an enterprise setting. These include Silent OS, an Android-based mobile operating system optimized for privacy.
Recommendation 2: DO USE Brave Browser
Your browser on mobile or desktop includes ads and trackers that monitor your habits. This way you are served with more relevant ads and other convenience services. The downside is that privacy is lost. If you’d rather opt out of the trackers and ads in one go, then the Brave browser is for you. This groundbreaking browser blocks ads and trackers, helping preserve your privacy. While it’s a young project that has not supplanted the major browsers yet, it offers great promise. Users report that it loads web pages faster due to ad blocking. It also enables content publishers to make money for their content from user micro-payments.
Recommendation 3: DO USE Tails Operating System
For the extremely paranoid, the Tails Linux operating system trumps most others where privacy is concerned. What makes this Linux distro special is that it is designed to run off a USB stick. Your data on the system stays only for the duration of your session and is encrypted while it lasts. All your records get wiped out when you shut down the system. The operating system sector has been rocked by a number of privacy controversies. Microsoft’s Windows 10, for example, has been the subject of multiple damaging privacy mishaps. Windows users who were riled by Microsoft’s missteps in releasing Windows 10 could now find a good privacy backup in the Tails operating system.
The Disapproved List: Avoid These Bad On Privacy Products
Recommendation 4: Avoid Google Clips
Called “invasive” and “creepy” by users on Twitter, Google Clips is a new product aimed at parents and pet owners. It consists of a surveillance camera that you install around your house. It keeps your young kids, pets or other individuals in sight and records at all times of the day. While it can be useful for surveillance requirements such as security, it also raises deep questions about privacy. With an always-on surveillance system such as this, chances are, the powerful capabilities of the system can be abused. One scenario that comes to mind is Google Clips users bringing the devices to public spaces like park benches or playgrounds.
Recommendation 5: Avoid Pokemon GO
In a special report in 2016, CBS News reported on the dark side of Pokemon GO. By that time, privacy activists had discovered that the game’s data collection was potentially invasive. In particular, collection of users’ location data allowed the company behind the app unparalleled access to users’ movement habits. If the data fell into a hacker’s hands or a kidnapper, the results could be terrible. In addition, the app took full control over a user’s Google data, allowing it full access to emails and other sensitive user data. While the company has addressed the most serious problems, a cloud hangs over users’ ability to remain private while playing the game.
The Future Needs More Privacy, Not Less
Privacy will be a key concern going forward. Frequently, users ignore privacy concerns because they still find technology products highly useful. This is reflected in the following comment by user “cyali” on a forum for I.T. professionals, Spiceworks. The user said:
“As far as search engines, Google will always be on top in my mind so I don’t really have any other suggestions there. Their tracking used to bother me until I began to find it useful – I’ve had to go back through my location history (recorded via phone GPS) multiple times, and have also had quite a few uses for going through my old search history.”
In other words, privacy matters, but so far has been trumped by massive product utility.
Technology companies walk a tight line in deciding which features to enable, and which data to collect. As the tech ratings we referenced earlier show, tech companies should err on the side of being too cautious. If users are clamoring en masse for more privacy, it’s safe to say these products will only become more popular if they start paying attention.