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With this anti-drone cannon you can gently bring down drones that spy on you by throwing a soft yet persuasive net at them. It’s just one of the inventive ways people have come up with to safeguard their privacy.
Privacy featured prominently in the design trends we observed over the past year. Amidst talk about surveillance in public spaces and on social media, people wonder who collects information about them, what is collected, and what is done with that information. Not entirely surprising was that these questions came concurrent with an increasing number of products and services that aim to understand their users better.
New consumer products can make our lives safer and easier. Applications range from health monitors such as Fitbit’s Ionic watch, to the ubiquitous intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa’s car integration. Product features cover finance security, like payment with LG’s 3D face recognition to personal security like with the BleepBleep Cecil G location bracelet, designed to track your child’s whereabouts.
At the same time, technological advances that offer personalization require more data. That data is obtained in increasingly automatic ways by sensors observing bodies and behavior. This carries a larger risk of making intimate personal information accessible to unintended audiences.
Some businesses have played into consumers' need to protect privacy. Companies like Katim, Secfone and Sunelan have launched ‘encrypted’ phones, with extra security measures embedded by default. Additionally, Huawei released its AI-focused Kirin 970 chipset, claiming that it better protects privacy as it processes information on the device instead of in the cloud. In the same vein, WIRE secures business conversations with end‑to-end encryption, and markets its abiding to European data protection laws as a main competitive advantage. The fact that these companies make this privacy focus explicit, suggests there is a potential market for privacy.
On a broader level, others are thinking of how our smart car, smart home and smart city services can support privacy. The German Entourage project is piloting an open digital car ecosystem, where data protection-friendly virtual assistants are important. These virtual assistants avoid central aggregation of data and improve access control for their users. The makers hope that the system can pave the way for integration with other smart ecosystems, for example at home, “without neglecting the special privacy requirements of this highly sensitive area”.
On a wider community level, Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet daughter company, says that its live smart city lab at Hudson Yards in New York, should offer “personalized social services [that] can deliver measurable health outcomes while maintaining individual privacy”.
Showing that privacy does not only involve large development projects and commercial products, a group of art students in the Netherlands created low-tech privacy-enhancing techniques. Sanne Weekers’ anonymity scarf is covered with a wide variety of faces, thus throwing off facial recognition software. Jing Cai Liu developed a wearable face projector, which distorts the view of the face underneath, and Joppe Besseling’s faraday cage backpack shields its contents from electromagnetic signals.
Privacy is also being guarded by government intervention. Many companies are preparing for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force this May. It puts clear boundaries on how personal information can be used, gives consumers more control of their information, and requires privacy by design.
As more and more tech products depend on gathering and linking information, businesses have an opportunity to make sure that the services they offer build for privacy from the get-go. This will help ensure that the data that serves as the backbone of this innovative era is used to truly empower individuals.