Web3 entrepreneur, investor, CBDC inventor and founder of Panther, Bitt, BaseTwo, Fluent and Elementary. Collaborated with UN, MIT and IMF.
Regulating privacy is not a brand new idea. Nor is it exclusive to the information age.
The roots of the right to privacy come from here ancient Roman law and Greek philosophy. The distinction between the public domain (the polis) and the private domain (the citizen) originated in the same place as democracy: ancient Greece. It then influenced the Roman legal concept of “actio iniuriarum”, that established the inviolability of one’s home and punished attacks on dignity and reputation – cornerstones of individuality.
As modern privacy regulations inevitably expand into the digital realm, the decisions made now will shape our future. In this article, I take a closer look at how companies can play an active role in shaping these norms and standards while adapting intently to change to remain competitive. I urge you not to idly observe as society settles on frameworks that will have a huge impact on what the virtual world will look like.
Preferences in privacy
Let’s start with an often overlooked truth: Consumers prefer privacy. A free society dictates the kind of laws it wants according to its needs, and consumers (voting with their money) seem to be turning to data protection.
While some leeway exists, one report found that over 79% of internet users have indicated that they are willing to invest time and money in protecting their data or pay extra for products with better privacy features. Further, more than two-thirds of us believe that current privacy laws are outdated and need to be improved to better protect our data.
It is therefore no coincidence that there will be new data regulation spread all over the world, and such uniform change can only be the result of a shift in public opinion. Other trends around the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – one of the few regulations that have successfully embraced user ownership of data – show that most users believe they are aware of their privacy rights.
Most modern consumers are growing concerned (download required) by the mishandling and surveillance of their data, becoming better informed about their rights and willing to make an effort to improve their experience. This creates a perfect storm for privacy that big companies have only recently tuned into.
For example, Apple has made privacy a selling point for its devices. Google has also have brought privacy features to Android and endorsed alternatives to the invasive but ubiquitous browser cookie model. By being pro-privacy, these companies are distancing themselves from themselves and shaming those who don’t. With privacy as the norm, doing nothing can be costly in the public perception game.
Changing regulations in times of cutting-edge technology
It’s not that hard to find out what makes a regulatory framework adequate. Regulations must be effective in preventing bad outcomes – in this case, leaks and unauthorized use of customer data – while keeping compliance costs reasonable. Compliance should ideally be achievable even for small businesses to avoid excessive barriers to entry. It must also not infringe on the rights of customers or companies.
Bad regulation can be catastrophic. It can destroy businesses, severely limit the ability of entire industries to compete in global markets, block improvements to the status quo and hinder innovation in the long run, while failing to solve the problems that motivate it.
And while regulation may seem like a field that doesn’t always change with the times, technology tools are starting to emerge that bridge the gap between compliance and privacy. One option is to use technology to give users complete control over their data without bypassing a platform’s ability to set rules and veto them.
Alternatives such as zero-knowledge technology can fill these gaps and verify users’ identities, funds and backgrounds while ensuring their confidentiality. For example, implementing this technology in various facets of digital life would prevent creditors from knowing the exact amounts that are in a particular person’s accounts or prevent social media platforms from storing individual user data. It could just be that thanks to the (mostly open-source) cryptographic developments of recent years, privacy and confidentiality finally meet each other in a win-win scenario.
Companies can influence regulations
Fortunately, you don’t always need a huge budget to help change regulations.
Political action committees and interest groups are a great way to take action without taking up a lot of your organization’s time and resources. Union generates strength. Intuitively, this also makes sense: if you don’t make your case, someone else will, and their case may not favor you.
Publishing informative content and discussing issues openly is also important. While favorable public opinion does not guarantee implementation of a given policy, research does support it it does have a big influence on it. Working to shift public opinion is then a good medium to long-term strategy that should be approached from multiple angles.
Remember those who make policy are looking for wins, so by stirring public opinion you might as well present one. If you’re a successful business, you probably already know how to create engaging, informative, and shareable content. Go make privacy memeable.
Show off your support for privacy
If you take one thing home from this article, make it this: experiment and trade. The name of the game is creating value.
In any market, you are paying for a valuable, desired service that is priced appropriately. You can create privacy protection products for individuals, businesses, governments and any niche you can think of. You can leverage existing privacy-enhancing technologies to create new products and services. The possibilities are endless.
If you already work for privacy, make sure you flaunt this loudly and often. Let others know. As someone who constantly talks to the world about ways to advance user privacy, I can tell you there are a lot more of us than you might think. By creating value together, we always achieve a net positive outcome for humanity.