The concept and necessity of online privacy have undergone several significant shifts. It went from smaller groups of tech-savvy and privacy-conscious individuals coming together anonymously to their mother clambering to open a social media account and tell the world all about themselves by the 2010s.
We’re in the midst of another shift towards increased online privacy awareness, complete with challenges few could have imagined even a decade ago. What’s going on privacy-wise in the digital landscape, and what does the future hold? Have a glimpse!
For most of the Internet’s existence, online privacy was primarily a matter of personal choice and awareness. Individuals still bear the brunt of these responsibilities. However, laws are emerging around the globe designed to safeguard and elevate people’s privacy freedoms.
Europe’s GDPR set the precedent in 2018. It governs the rights of EU citizens concerning the handling, processing, and erasure of their personal data. Any business that suffers a data breach must disclose it within 72 hours and adequately protect private data or face hefty fines. One of the social media giants – Meta’s Facebook – now holds the record of the biggest fine in GDPR history.
Equally important is the right of EU citizens to petition companies to remove all the data they accumulated on the petitioner. There are some trusted ways to remove your personal information from the Internet, but very few people know and actually do that so far.
Other countries and territories quickly followed. Three US states have codified similar acts into state law, while 40 more have some degree of regulation on local levels. It’s likely that three-quarters of the world’s population will enjoy some form of legal online privacy protection by the end of 2024.
Factors like legal backing and AI prominence contribute to a growing consciousness among internet users. Companies are now dealing not just with convenient sources of information – and therefore revenue – but with proactive citizens aware of their rights. 2024 will also see Google phase out third-party cookies, putting an end to targeted ads based on site tracking.
Savvy companies are already pushing towards a more privacy- and user-centric approach to their online presence. That involves creating an experience that no longer tailors customer experiences to buyer personas – but to actual individuals. The approach hinges on informed consent along with harnessing and protecting information customers give out willingly.
The more ordinary people are aware of their online privacy rights, the clearer it becomes how these rights are under siege by malicious actors. Data breaches are big business in the hacking world, raking in millions by exploiting or selling victims’ personal, medical, and financial information.
The frequency and severity of cyberattacks will continue to grow. Hackers are also starting to leverage AI to do their dirt work. Future cyberattacks will increasingly involve the use of deepfakes and generated speech. Phishing will also see a transformation as cybercriminals leverage LLMs like ChatGPT to draft emails that are impossible to tell apart from genuine human correspondence.
Two-factor authentication is a staple of advanced account protection the crooks are setting their sights on, too. Specifically, they’re devising ways of bypassing 2FA or making it ineffective via attacks like push bombing.
Threats to online privacy may become more sophisticated, but privacy-conscious users aren’t without options. VPNs will remain among the most accessible and effective online security tools. They level the playing field through sophisticated encryption that shields your online activities from prying eyes. VPNs are also indispensable for accessing restricted content in areas of the world where ISPs and governing regimes monitor and block certain websites and services.
AI-assisted malware may become more problematic since it can hide itself and adapt on the fly. Antivirus and antimalware software will catch up by developing new means of identifying and quarantining threats without relying on existing databases. Keeping such software updated remains a simple yet effective countermeasure.
Password security will become even more important than before. Specialized AIs already excel at bypassing short and common passwords in record time. Sophisticated, unique, and long passwords will still hold strong, so you should be using a password manager to generate and store them.
Keeping up with trends in online privacy and following relevant best practices is invaluable as well. Doing so will help minimize your online footprint, ensuring that there’s as little personal data on you as possible to exploit.
The future of online privacy is shaping up to be tumultuous. Users, businesses, and governments will undoubtedly face new and evolving challenges spearheaded by rapid AI development. Even so, the growing realization that we have the power to shape, access, or withhold our data backed by an emerging legislature leaves hope for a brighter outcome.