As 2012 draws to a close we take a look back at what we think will be the top five threats to online privacy over the coming year. Think we’ve missed something out? Let us know in the comments below.
1. Backdoor copyright legislation
2012 was a pretty momentous year when it came to defeating copyright legislation that would’ve had a disastrous effect on online privacy and online freedoms. Both SOPA and ACTA sparked some of the biggest popular protests over internet issues ever seen.
The result was a win for activists, but it also meant that – like common criminals – the copyright lobby and legislators were forced to ‘go underground’ and try to get their legislation implemented through less conspicuous means. A good example of this is the Trans Pacific Partnership, which has shoehorned-in a great deal of SOPA-inspired legislation. Once one or two major economies implement such copyright laws, it will give lobbyists more leverage to get them implemented in other territories.
2. Data breaches
Given the spread of online data mining and increased value in online information, data breaches suffered by private and public entities are only going to become more common and more serious, until companies and governments alike take the issue seriously. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem likely in 2013, given the record number of embarrassingly big data breaches in 2012, which compromised a range of personal data, from health records and social security numbers, to credit information.
3. Online security legislation
While online copyright lawyers will attempt to sneak their way through the back door, governments are using scare tactics to push through legislation designed to make it easier to spy and collect data on citizens. As we saw recently with the UK’s Communications Capabilities Development Programme, governments will go as far as branding anyone concerned about online surveillance “paedophiles or terrorists”. What happens in places like the UK over the coming months will surely have repercussions elsewhere. Many other countries are coming under pressure from their law enforcement agencies to update communications legislation that was designed for a different age. Such legislation definitely does need updating, but unless citizens remain vigilant, law enforcement will take this opportunity to increase their powers of surveillance on an unprecedented scale.
4. State cyber warfare
As online systems grow in strategic and economic importance for both private and government entities, online espionage will increase, with repercussions for individual online privacy. When it comes to espionage perpetrated by governments, we’ve already seen operation ‘The Olympic Games’ spawn viruses such as Stuxnet, Flame and Duqu and there’s bound to be more where that came from. Away from the occidental, there’s also the perceived threat from major Chinese telcos ZTE and Huawei, which are busy winning communications infrastructure contracts in western countries. Whether such fears are justified, and what they mean for individual online privacy, remains to be seen.
5. Mobile platforms and advertising
The penetration of smartphones and the mobile internet subscriptions is only set to increase. Obviously, in a physical sense, the more connected devices you have the bigger the potential risk that your personal data will fall into the wrong hands. But perhaps a bigger issue to watch is the growing importance of mobile advertising. So far the mobile ad industry has been hamstrung by a number of problems regarding tracking, but these problems are fast becoming overcome. Another sign of a possible boom in mobile advertising is the positive results from Facebook’s rollout of mobile ads earlier in the year. Once advertisers decide to heavily invest in mobile, you can expect more pressure on services and platforms to leverage mobile’s unique features – such as geo-location – in order to boost advertiser ROI. What effect this has on your privacy and personal data is up to regulators such as the FTC, who just a few days ago showed how vulnerable they are to determined lobbying.