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C-Suite Insight: Privacy at the Edge


As featured in Acceleration Economy Network

The increasingly instrumented and sensor-laden edge is making it difficult for people to find alone time and evade prying digital eyes. The challenge only promises to get bigger as consumer and industrial IoT continue to shed unwelcome light on our personal lives and our personal data. The issue of privacy is becoming a prominent topic of ethics and legality. What can you do as a member of the C-suite to steer your business with a privacy first compass?

What are the priorities and principles driving the privacy agenda?

Privacy has long been a consumer and business afterthought. In fact, most consumers did not realize that they have very little legal recourse when they felt that their privacy was compromised, especially as folks discovered that what they posted on their favorite social media site was patently public and available for public use and exploitation. Many of us probably don’t remember our lives before Facebook, Pinterest, SnapChat, or TikTok. Those of you who do probably remember that it was much easier to lead a private life.

A number of events have transpired over the past decade that have brought about a growing consumer awareness of privacy issues in their digital lives. Most prominently was a series of major data hacks across a wide range of companies that compromised billions of consumers’ personal data. Notable hacks include Yahoo!, Equifax, Marriott, Facebook, Friend Finder, and many more.

The event that really made the topic of privacy explode was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The firm had been using the personal data of Facebook users in political advertising during the 2016 US elections and Brexit Referendum. The scandal unfolded as the EU drafted and instituted its GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation on May 25th of 2018. Shortly after, California and Chicago adopted consumer privacy laws. 

How does edge computing create new opportunities to realize privacy first products and services?

The best way to keep your personal data protected is under your control and if possible on your person. There are those who will argue that your data is safer in the cloud. This is a difficult assertion to defend is not intrinsically true.

Personal data that resides on device and does not leave the device and out of your personal control is architecturally conducive to privacy. Consequently, Apple led the charge in enabling trusted storage of personal data on device with the introduction of its secure enclave which accompanied the 2013 launch of Touch ID. Secure enclaves are “dedicated secure subsystems” on SoCs (System on Chip) for a growing range of endpoint devices that are designed to keep sensitive user data secure even if the application processing unit is compromised. 

On premise edge infrastructures and a growing emphasis on designing distributed systems that protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumer and enterprise data, present opportunities to deliver new capabilities into protected edge environments. Instead of administering systems from a security perspective from the cloud, the endpoint device is the centerpiece of identity and access. 

This is a paradigm shift with profound system design and security architecture consequences, most of them good for the consumer and the enterprise.   

Key Takeaway for the C-Suite

Data has become a religion, especially customer data. Enterprises have been indoctrinated into think that knowing the customer means gathering as much of their personal data as possible. This mindset has fostered distributed computing architectures that put the personal data of consumers at tremendous risk of exploitation and compromise.

CXOs who care about their customers will start to explore how they can improve their customer engagements and intelligence without putting their customer’s personal data at risk and risk GDPR-like regulatory issues. The endpoint technologies are there to support a different attitude and architecture that puts privacy first. Check it out because it is fast becoming a competitive differentiator for digital enterprises and a tremendous risk mitigation in an increasingly privacy first world.

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