Our Internet privacy is at risk -- but not dead (yet)

Legislation, stealth technologies, and emerging data privacy markets are proving that the battle for our Internet privacy has only just begun

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In this scheme, consumers would store sensitive information in cloud-based data lockers; third parties would only be able to access information needed to offer a service or perform a transaction. The data-locker provider would be responsible for ensuring security; consumers would theoretically be more willing to share more information; and companies would get more accurate data without the liability, says Khatibloo.

The PIDM economy is already under way with companies like Enliken, which offers Web publishers the ability to negotiate with visitors by offering deals in exchange for their data, and OneID, which enables users to verify their identities online without necessarily revealing any personal information.

Earlier this month UnboundID announced a privacy suite that will allow enterprises to offer their customers more control over their personal data. At the moment the suite is still in trials with several telco and cloud service providers, who are weighing whether to embed the software in their user portals later this year, says Andy Land, vice president of marketing at UnboundID.

Of course, how much control each organization offers its users will vary, admits Land. Some may be reluctant to give up control. But he believes that will change over time.

"There will be a domino effect," he says. "A company will offer these controls to users, see results, and start touting them. Others will say, 'Wait a minute, they're offering something we don't; we're at a disadvantage'. But first you need someone to stand up and say, 'We're doing this because we think it's the right thing to do.' "

Data for the people

We are still in the very early days of the information economy, notes Trevor Hughes, CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. As with the industrial revolution, the data revolution comes with its own share of strife and difficulty.

"But the industrial revolution ultimately resulted in things like the five-day work week and child labor laws," he says. "One of the first issues we have to grapple with in the information economy is privacy, but I expect there will be dozens more."

Hughes argues that the benefits we can glean from data collection -- from wearable health monitors like the Nike Fuel that track our workouts to smart meters that help conserve home-energy use to services like Mint.com that let us manage our personal finances from a single screen -- outweigh the risks.

"There's a sense out there that if you shut off the data you can shut off the abuses," adds Jim Adler, chief privacy officer and vice president of data systems at data broker Intelius. "That may be true, but then you also shut off all the benefits."

Adler acknowledges that for now data collectors have the upper hand, but believes that consumers will eventually achieve parity.

"Right now they know everything about us and we don't know anything about them," he says. "I think that will level out over time."

Hughes points to his own industry as proof that privacy is far from dead. Fifteen years ago, the privacy profession did not exist. Now there are more than 12,000 privacy professionals in 78 countries, trying to direct their companies to use data responsibly and safely.

"The job of the chief privacy officer is to figure out how society can extract the maximum value out of that data while at the same time protecting consumers from harmful uses," he says. "I want to live in a world where data works for us and delights us, and I think that will happen."

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This story, "Our Internet privacy is at risk -- but not dead (yet)," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in security at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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