The inevitable onslaught of targeted advertisements has both consumers and technology companies wondering whether there is any alternative future for internet economics. Jonathan Shaw recently published a compelling piece in Harvard Magazine, breaking down some of the biggest challenges to our understanding of individual freedoms and technological progress. In this article he interviews the outspoken privacy advocate, Harvard professor and author Shoshana Zuboff who coined the term “surveillance capitalism” in reference to a market in which “rights are taken from us without our knowledge, understanding, or consent and used to create products designed to predict our behavior.” How do consumers gain control and maintain privacy when they are the targeted commodity?
Yochai Benkler, the director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, believes that personal data should be held by consumers themselves, creating a more robust decentralized network of sensitive information that is not prone to single points of failure that we have witnessed in the large-scale breaches of governments and industry. A more practical solution to this distributed storage and access challenge would be strong encryption and the retention of secret keys, so that the data can securely reside anywhere while the individual retains control of their privacy. It is also important to note the coupling of these aspects, as the pioneering security expert Bruce Schneier has stated, “I actually can’t give you privacy unless you have security.”