In early May, Apple released a significant update to its mobile devices by introducing what it dubbed “App Tracking Transparency.”
This ensures that if you own an iPhone, any app must ask your permission before tracking your activity outside of its own app. Many cybersecurity experts call this one of the most consequential privacy updates Apple has released, and it has already sparked more than a few fights between tech giants on both sides of the privacy protection aisle.
Breaches breed protection
Privacy of your personal information is more important than ever. Major data breaches like the 2017 Yahoo breach of 3 billion accounts, the First American Financial Corp. breach in 2019, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which set nearly every Facebook user’s information up for sale for political advertising, have all exposed cracks in online privacy that need to be plugged up.
Based on how most Americans have dozens of online accounts storing their personal information, I would guess most Americans have had their personal information lost in a data breach, maybe even one of the aforementioned three.
The problem intensifies when information is identifying. Every time you provide your name, date of birth, email, or other personal data, you better hope this information is going to a network protected with privacy-preserving technology, or your information could be going on sale, and a small set of attributes can quickly identify an individual.
Protecting data in motion
Privacy-preserving technology is borne out of the growing recognition that internet communications present a significant risk to privacy among individuals and organizations. As parties share information, cybercriminals can swoop in and steal data without either the senders or recipients knowing it.
Homomorphic encryption is one emerging privacy-preserving technology that protects data, not only while in transit or in storage, but during computation as well. Homomorphic encryption enables users to perform computations on encrypted data without first decrypting it.
A typical application might be its use to protect individual health information while allowing data analytics on collections of health records. A significant portion of data in healthcare must, by law, be protected from unauthorized use. Homomorphic encryption has the potential to enable the secure sharing and combining of confidential data for use in clinical trials and studies.
Another privacy-preserving technology is known as zero-knowledge proofs. Zero-knowledge proofs provide a method by which one party can prove to another that it knows a value without saying how it knows the value or what the value is. As a simplistic illustration, imagine I tell you I can prove that I know where Waldo is in a “Where’s Waldo?” without revealing where he is in the picture or how I found him.