Brands are stepping in to help consumers protect their digital identities.
Data breaches are mounting, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the massive Equifax credit breach to the recent Ecuador data leak. As the frequency and severity of these breaches escalate, data privacy has become a critical issue for consumers around the world. Today, with so much of modern life occurring in the digital realm, consumers are increasingly conscious and protective of their digital fingerprints. In response, brands are introducing new products and service that protect data by keeping online activity private.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2019, tech brands took pains to emphasize their privacy credentials. From Qualcomm to Byton cars to Samsung, data privacy was heroized as a key pillar of new initiatives. Snips took home a CES innovation award for their private AI voice assistant that runs locally and on-device to safeguard digital data. Unlike Amazon Alexa and Google Home, Snips AI ensures that no end-user voice data is transferred to or analyzed in the cloud. And, with 5+ billion unique mobile users globally, Yubico announced plans to release a new iPhone-compatible version of its YubiKey, a device that encrypts passwords for an extra layer of security.
In August 2019, US startup Winston Privacy released a hardware filter that masks digital activity and protects personal data by scrambling, encrypting and anonymizing internet activity. Winston works across a home’s entire network of devices, protecting computers as well as smartphones and connected home accessories operating on the internet of things, such as smart speakers and smart refrigerators.
This follows the Helm Personal Server, released in November 2018. The device encrypts online data and stores it in the private device instead of the cloud, giving people “an alternative to the existing way they live their lives online,” explained Giri Sreenivas, co-founder and CEO of Helm.
“Using cloud-based email services means signing away your rights and allowing third-parties access to the information being stored on them,” said the company. “Helm allows you to take control of your online life and communicate with confidence — free from worries of surveillance, corporate oversight, or being caught up in the next massive online breach.”
Both Winston and Helm fall at the top end of the market, positioning data privacy and online security as the latest modern luxury. Winston runs $250 for the device plus a $99 annual software subscription, while Helm will set buyers back $500 with an additional $99 yearly service fee.
Meanwhile, big tech providers are taking first steps to assuage consumer concerns on the mass-market stage. In August 2019, Facebook announced plans to open pop-up “privacy cafes” across the UK where visitors can get a privacy checkup along with their morning cup of coffee. The checkups include advice on how to personalize and improve online privacy settings, to help users better protect and control information shared online. And in May 2019, Google opened a privacy engineering hub in Europe. The new Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC) is founded on the belief that “privacy and safety must be equally available to everyone in the world,” and will work on “building privacy and security into the core of our products,” explained GSEC CEO Sundar Pichai.
“With every post, click and purchase, we have become the product,” wrote Winston Privacy founder Richard Stokes in a June 2019 think piece for Fast Company. “I didn’t agree to that, and I bet you didn’t either.” These new products and services seek to correct this, positioning data privacy as the ultimate amenity for modern consumers in the process.
Main image courtesy of Helm