Is Privacy Dead?

Written by Kayla O'Leary, Digital Investment Associate Director, Los Angeles

“Privacy is dead.” – One of the first things I heard walking into day two of the SXSW Interactive sessions. There are various programming trends at this year’s convention – automation is a big one. Everything from transportation and delivery automation, home automation, and job design automation. In addition, XR (or cross reality) and how to create content for, and market to TV bingers.

Working within Digital Investment, the topic that has most resonated with me though is ‘digital distrust’.

Two major areas that I see contributing to this distrust:

  1. Data privacy (or lack thereof)
  2. Misinformation on the internet

There were two key learnings. First, brands should invest in becoming more trustworthy, to their competitive advantage. Second, as consumers, digital literacy and education is essential, and we need to place greater focus on understanding our digital identity.

I will back track a bit, to address data privacy, first. Amy Webb (who I quote at start of this post) is right. Data privacy really is dead! Every action we take online, and every interaction with or even just near a digital device, is tracked and all contribute to our individual digital identities.

I’ve done my best to create a connected home for myself. I have a Google Home or Mini in every room – kitchen, bedroom, dining room, living room – even the bathroom! You can find me on all social channels. I jumped on the Venmo bandwagon a while ago, and I have recently started using Google Pay. I use apps to track my fitness habits, log recipes I like, and so much more. My point? Like most others, the digital inputs contributing to my online identity are vast, and there is little regulation around how that data is managed. Of course, there have been strides – GDPR, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), etc.

But collectively, I don’t truly know how safely my online data is retained and controlled. Is all of it being used ethically, and will it always be? Say an app or company I’ve opted-in to provide data to goes bankrupt. What would happen with the information then? Could it be sold off and used less ethically? Maybe I don’t really care who knows which recipes I like. But say I had some genetic testing done to understand my family ancestry. Might I care more about that information and how it is managed? Would I want to understand better how it is being encrypted or how much risk is taken in how it is stored?

The truth is, attending the sessions here at SXSW and listening to so many people discuss the topic, it’s made me realize how many more questions we should be asking ourselves, and the importance of internet government in general. Data regulation, in particular, is a growing focal point for many though (myself included now!), so it is increasingly important brands invest in building and showcasing their reliability, as it pertains to data usage and management.

I will finish by addressing misinformation online, as it adds greatly to digital distrust, as well. Certainly, it isn’t a new problem, but it has been amplified by social media and then elevated in recent years (and I am drawing here from much of what I heard in SXSW’s Fighting Misinformation & Defending the Open Web panel session). Depending on the country, there may or may not be legal censorship. In the U.S. there isn’t. In the absence of legal censorship, the onus falls on companies and fellow consumers alike to help combat the issue.

Social media companies, for example, have been taking some steps to help prevent the perpetuation of misinformation within their platforms. I feel that a lot of work still needs to be done, from a consumer standpoint. It is important for consumers to passionately pursue education and hone their digital literacy, understanding not everything you read or hear online is based in reality and knowing how to detect fact vs. opinion vs. conspiracy.

Explore other SXSW programming trends: https://www.sxsw.com/conference/2019-sxsw-programming-trends/

Amy Webb at SXSW: 2019 Emerging Tech Trends Report