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5 trends to expect in the new big data protection revolution

A lot has changed since 2011 when Jeffrey Hamerbacher noted, “the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” but it was an extremely prescient harbinger of the decade that followed. Big data shaped the last decade, with data security, privacy, and ethics largely discounted.

For some, this last decade introduced a “new breed of swindler, huckster, influencer, troll and hacker.” As we begin 2020, many view the next decade as continuing down this path with greater focus on vacuuming up as much data as possible with little concern for the security of that data or its societal impact.

But the pendulum swings both ways. In 2020 and beyond, it is important to take a realist perspective on the perils of last decade’s approach to big data. We must not ignore our new vocabulary, with terms such as ransomware and deepfakes now common vernacular, and big tech deemed the new masters of the universe. But we equally must not accept an ominous path toward a dystopian surveillance state as a given.

Instead of regurgitating many of the dominant predictions around tech buzzwords such as quantum computing, 5G, IoT, the cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI), let’s instead focus on the inherent duality of technology.

In Frozen II, Olaf reminds us that advancing technology can be “both our savior and our doom.” This duality will become much more prominent in the new decade, and even demonstrate how technology—and the data that runs through it – can be applied to mitigate some of the most pressing issues of our time. Below are a few influential areas where this duality will be most impactful.

  • Protecting the Algorithms: Of course, these breakthroughs and reliance on algorithms also introduce risk. Algorithmic integrity is generally overlooked in predictions about the future of AI, even though the last decade started with a spoofed algorithm in May 2010 causing a trillion-dollar stock market crash (aka the Flash Crash). Ensuring algorithmic integrity will be essential to realize the societal benefits of big data breakthroughs while also defending the algorithms (and the data flowing through them) from attacks such as algorithmic poisoning attacks, adversarial manipulation, and a range of exploitation techniques.
  • Untrusted Environments as the New Norm: From software supply chains to hardware suppliers to third-party partners, personal and corporate data will increasingly flow through untrusted environments. 90% of organizations already store data in cloud environments, with dozens (if not hundreds) of different cloud-based applications in use at any given time. Couple this with the 5G race and state-owned infrastructure and complex supply chains, data will increasingly be at risk in untrusted environments. At the same time, thanks to the growing privacy movement and data protection regulations, as well as innovations in data protections to empower data owners, individual data sovereignty (i.e, greater empowerment of users to protect and control their data) will make great leaps in the 2020s and enhance protection even within untrusted environments.
  • The New Digital Divide: Be prepared to hear more discussion of the global splinternet. Whether framed as a big data arms race or the spread of digital authoritarianism, digital dictators are seeking absolute information control and is a major threat to democracy. This will not be as simple as a digital Cold War, but rather will be much more nuanced with extreme variations along the spectrum of individual data rights, on one end, and absolute government information control, on the other. Expect growing discussion of data protection as a human right, with authoritarian (and even some democratic) governments seeking absolute control. At the same time, growing societal unrest will spark more protests against these governments. Iran’s recent internet shutdown to counter domestic protests and India’s shutdown in Kashmir (it’s longest ever at over 130 days) reflect the collision of these two ideals. But perhaps nothing personifies this divide better than the Hong Kong protests, as protestors innovate to deter a high-tech police force and Chinese digital attacks.
  • Embracing Technology’s Duality with Integrity: The dual-nature of technology will dominate this decade, which offers room for cautious optimism. Technology can, and will, be weaponized. As Snapchat introduces deepfakes, as TikTok strengthens and expands its user base to prompt national security investigations, as facial recognition becomes commonplace in airports, and algorithmic decision-making becomes the norm, we must increasingly weigh the pros and cons of these applications and technologies. Even privacy legislation can be weaponized, such as coordinated data subject access requests (DSAR) leading to the equivalent of a DDoS attack.

Instead of a luddite or nihilistic response, it’s essential to remember these technologies can benefit society. Digital literacy, smart regulations, and a focus on algorithmic and data integrity will be foundational to ensuring technological innovations are a savoir and not our doom. There is plenty of room to improve digital literacy, and at least in the U.S. data protection legislation has yet made little progress. Trends are moving in the right direction for each of these.

As digital literacy increases and as data protection regulations come into effect, there will be greater demand for tools that provide robust digital security and privacy protections.

This is where technological innovation will have its greatest impact, as it enables the secure collaboration required to help solve many of today’s greatest challenges. It also can help validate the integrity of the data and the algorithms through which the data flows—this includes everything from limiting algorithmic biases to making them tamper-proof. In this way, defensive innovation can simultaneously augment the security and privacy of the data from the full range of attacks that we have seen over the last decade, as well as those which will continue to evolve in the new one.

This year, and this new decade, will show how technology can be both our savior and our doom. It’s on all of us to help determine which side prevails.

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