In the past few months we covered numerous articles related to privacy issues, from Facebook’s worm that had been downloaded around 28,000 times to Facebook’s apps third party data leakage to third parties, infringing on users’ rights by using their profile data. Google’s not immune to privacy concerns, facing a series of lawsuits throughout the world, especially Europe, regarding Street View and privacy encroachment as they lacked the proper IT tools to protect privacy.
Even industry giants use privacy as a common tool for carrying out perpetual wars: in 2010 Google prevented Facebook and other similar parties from using private data to improve their friends’ database; Facebook in its turn replied by preventing websites to automatically import the users’ Google Contacts unless they allowed similar export to other sites. Other players in the game, such as Microsoft, talk tall of themselves and their commitment to increasing consumer privacy by creating tools meant to prevent data leakage, distributed amongst platforms such as IE9 or Windows 7. Apple, Microsoft and R.I.M. provide free apps for their devices, and similar apps are available for Android and other phones from third parties, including F-Secure and Lookout.
The commonality around privacy is its growing need as an integrated consumer feature and service. Privacy is as well regarded as a new ‘asset’ for start-ups that attract great sums of money from investors as they are committed to the protection of personal data. One example might be Personal Inc., which has raised $7.6 million for a business model aimed to help people profit from providing their personal information to advertisers. Some of these start-ups go as far as offering clients a percentage from the sum their personal data was sold for to third parties, such as Allow Ldt., giving customers 70 percent of the sale.
Considering the growing number of smartphone users and diversifying mobile devices, the chances of phishing, for example, are higher. According to a research carried out by Trusteer, mobile devices are activated all the time, and small-screen formatting makes the fraud more difficult to spot. There is also the risk presented by unprotected wireless networks accessed by mobile devices in airports or cafes.
Meglena Kuneva, European Consumer Commissioner, sees personal data as ‘the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world.’ Allow Ltd is just one of nearly a dozen start-ups hoping to profit from the nascent privacy market. Several promise to pay people a commission on the sale of their data. Others offer free products to block online tracking, in the hopes of later selling users other services—such as disposable phone numbers or email addresses that make personal tracking tougher. Still others sell paid services, such as removing people’s names from marketing databases.