Web3 entrepreneur, investor, CBDC inventor and founder Panther, Bitt, BaseTwo, Fluent and Elemental. Collaborated with the UN, MIT and the IMF.
Regulating privacy is not an entirely new idea. Nor is it exclusive to the information age.
The roots of the right to privacy come from ancient Roman law and Greek philosophy. The distinction between the public realm (polis) and the private realm (citizen) was born in the same place as democracy: in ancient Greece. It then influenced the Roman legal concept of “actio iniuriarum”, which established the inviolability of one’s residence and punished attacks on dignity and reputation — the cornerstone of individuality.
As modern privacy regulations inevitably expand into the digital realm, decisions made right now will shape all of our futures. In this article, I will dive into how companies can play an active role in shaping these norms and standards while carefully adapting to the changes to remain competitive. I invite you not to watch idly as society sets frameworks that will greatly influence how the virtual world will look.
Let’s start with an often-overlooked truth: consumers prefer privacy. A free society dictates the laws it wants according to its needs, and consumers (who vote with their money) seem to be turning to data protection.
While there is some freedom, one report found that more than 79% of Internet users expressed a willingness to invest time and money in protecting their data or pay extra for products with better privacy features. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of us believe that current privacy laws are outdated and need to be improved to better protect our data.
It is therefore no coincidence that the new data regulation is spreading all over the world, and such a unique change can only be the result of a change in public opinion. Other trends surrounding the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—one of the few regulations that have successfully embraced ownership of user data—show that most users believe they are aware of their privacy rights.
Most of today’s consumers are increasingly concerned (download required) about the mishandling and oversight of their data, are becoming better informed about their rights, and are willing to make efforts to improve their experience. This creates a perfect storm for privacy that large corporations have only recently adapted to.
Apple, for example, has turned privacy into a selling point for its devices. Google is also bringing privacy features to Android and supporting alternatives to the browser’s invasive but ubiquitous cookie model. By advocating privacy, these companies distance themselves and effectively shame those who don’t. With privacy the norm, doing nothing can be costly in the game of public perception.
Changing regulations in the age of the latest technology
It is not difficult to figure out what makes the regulatory framework appropriate. Regulation must be effective in avoiding bad outcomes—in this case, leakage and unauthorized use of user data—while keeping compliance costs reasonable. Compliance should ideally be possible even for small businesses to avoid excessive barriers to entry. It should also not infringe on the rights of customers or businesses.
Bad regulation can be disastrous. It can destroy businesses, severely limit the ability of entire industries to compete in global markets, block improvements to the status quo, and hinder innovation in the long term—as long as it fails to solve the problems that motivate them.
And while regulations may seem like an area that doesn’t always change with the times, technology tools are beginning to emerge that bridge the gap between compliance and privacy. One possibility is to use technology to give users full control over their data without bypassing the platform’s ability to set rules and veto them.
Alternatives such as zero-knowledge technology can fill these gaps and verify users’ identities, assets and backgrounds while guaranteeing their confidentiality. Applying this technology to various aspects of digital life would prevent, for example, creditors from knowing the exact amounts of money held in a particular person’s accounts or social media platforms storing individual user data. It’s possible that thanks to the (mostly open source) cryptographic developments of the past few years, privacy and confidentiality are finally meeting in a win-win scenario.
Companies can influence the making of rules
Fortunately, you don’t always need a huge budget to help change regulations.
Political action committees and advocacy groups are a great way to take action without taking up a lot of your organization’s time and resources. Union creates strength. Intuitively, this also makes sense: if you don’t make your case, someone else will, and their cause may not be in your favor.
Publishing informative content and openly discussing issues is also important. Although favorable public opinion does not guarantee the implementation of a certain policy, research confirms that it has a significant impact on it. Working to change public opinion is then a good mid- to long-term strategy that should be approached from multiple angles.
Keep in mind that these drafting policies seek gains, so by stirring up public opinion, you might as well present it. If you’re a successful business, you probably already know how to create compelling, informative and shareable content. Go ahead and make privacy memorable.
Flaunting your privacy support
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: experiment and take action. The name of the game is value creation.
In every market, a valuable, desired service with an appropriate price will be paid for. You can create privacy-preserving products for individuals, corporations, governments, and any niche you can think of. You can leverage existing privacy-enhancing technologies to create new products and services. The possibilities are endless.
If you already work for privacy, be sure to flaunt it loud and often. Let others know. As someone who is constantly talking to the world about ways to improve user privacy, I can tell you that there are a lot more of us than you think. By creating value together, we will always achieve a net positive for humanity.
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