Data Security in the age of Big Brother.

As our everyday lives become more and more interconnected with digital platforms the issues around privacy and how we store data online is becoming ever more central to our interactions, both consciously and unconsciously. We now bank online, store photos, book holidays, buy groceries and even cars online, as a result we store a huge amount of data across various digital platforms to make life easier and more convenient for ourselves. However, this also comes with a risk, for however complex the security around a platform is, there’s more than likely someone who can break it, quite easily too.

As a digital agency which deals with many clients across eCommerce and consumer data storage, security is an ever evolving and primary consideration in what we do, as well as the user habits that go with that and how interactions with security can change how we use services. In recent years, we’ve watched as celebrity photos are leaked, Snowden Files show that we’re being watched and tracked by our governments, all of this leaked or tracked data has been on trusted networks which we rely on every single day.

The most recent example is the an attack on Ashley Madison, a social network which aims to connect people looking to go behind their partners backs. Over 37million records were stolen by a group named “The Impact Team’ who have claimed to be acting on moral grounds, demanding that the site be shut down, otherwise they plan to release the real names, addresses, credit cards and sexual details of almost 40million people who are active on the site.

The nature of online attacks on highly sensitive websites, which store huge amounts of data have grown in complexity over recent years, which is something brands have been working hard to catch up on. Working with such brands, especially from a technical and user experience perspective has taught us that while consumers are happy to share content and promote their own online presence, they are far more wary when it comes to specific personal details, banking information and payment methods. The basic understanding is that consumers expect a website like Amazon, or services like Apple Pay to be the most secure place to store their card details and that they shouldn’t have to think twice about it. In fact, some security systems can be annoying to a user who has now become accustomed to automatic sign-in, or one-click purchase.

Interestingly, while concern over hackers has grown and certainly entered the mainstream thought process in how we transact online, government oversight has had far less impact on what we share than hackers. A ‘Devil you know’ situation has arisen whereby people may not be happy with authoritative oversight of what they do and share online, but they trust it more than unruly hackers, whose intentions are less well understood.

Companies have been looking at ways to deal with both threats to consumer privacy in recent years. Apple have taken a hardline stance on sharing information, even to the most clandestine OR powerful of government organisations. Famously Tim Cook has spoken out about organisations selling, or allowing third parties access to consumer data without direct consent, saying that private data is just that, and should be only used by the company with which you are directly dealing.

Another company which is looking to secure personal data from both hacking groups and governments is Turing Robotics, having created the Turing Phone. While it runs Android, which is designed on the basis of sharing data openly, there are several key features which lock down information. The idea behind this unique device is to encrypt all data to ensure it can’t be accessed by anyone, but you and the recipient. The handset doesn’t even have a micro-USB port for charging, as they are notoriously easy to crack and bypass device security on any handset.

Meanwhile, however while companies works harder and harder to keep data as secure as possible, it will ultimately be the consumer who loses out in what appears to be a battle between a desire for an open web which is answerable to nobody, and convenience which we have come to know through handling more and more digital platforms. As an agency who works so closely with these fields, it’s key that our understanding of consumer behaviour, paired with online security is constantly evolving to match the marketplace. It is important to make sure that, and technology or consumer brands, walk that fine line between the open web and consumer convenience and security.

By Ciaran, Jul 2015