Privacy is the new black

November 17, 2015 |

 Technology is filling a gap left by the law in privacy.  The Australian has a very interesting piece, Privacy protection the new black: Turnbull spruik boost for Wickr on Wikr and how the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for this messaging app has boosted its use. It is a very interesting piece.  Wikr is not alone.  On 29 October 2015 Tor released a new beta version of Tor messenger while gmail is now warning users when messages arrive from unencrypted connections.

A large part of the reason for the development of apps like Wikr has been the inadequate legal framework of privacy protections and the inadequate enforcement of what there is. If the laws won’t protect and the technology can fill the gap then, as Aristotle postulated, nature abhors a vacuum.   This of course does not mean there isn’t resistance.  Technological responses tend to attract strong resistance from authorities who are particularly keen on having access to encrypted communications.  The article in today’s Fairfax press about communications involving terrorists at least partly being protected by encryption, and thereby thwarting authorities, is contained in the piece Officials picked up ‘chatter’ on possible France assault, then were blocked by encryption.  Mandating that governments have keys for encrypted communications or that programs have back doors is a simplistic and potentially disastrous mistake.  It is poor privacy practice and reputationally damaging for internet companies.

 The article provides:

Wickr, Malcolm Turnbull’s encrypted messaging app of choice, knows almost ­nothing about its users. The only data Wickr has ­access to is where they download the app from, which is how it knows that ­Australians are rushing to join the service.

Australia was already one of Wickr’s biggest markets, but the Prime Minister’s confirmation that he uses the secret messaging app has seen downloads spike in recent months.

“We’ve seen about a 700 per cent increase in downloads since Turnbull first announced that he uses it,” Wickr’s enigmatic co-founder, Nico Sell, told The ­Australian.

“In Australia we’re one of the top trending terms and very much in the media right now and so it’s a great example of an entire country that can be saved from this massive amount of data collection.

“I think Turnbull has done a great job of demonstrating that the data retention law is useless and I would say that we as a society need to go away from collecting and hoarding data.”

For Sell, privacy is the new selling point and there’s money to be made out of it. Sell wants Wickr to go from having millions of users to billions of users and, from the ­revelations of whistleblower ­Edward Snowden to the steady spate of security breaches around the globe, the public’s growing anxiety about their personal data is a boon for Wickr.

“Privacy is something that only billionaires and celebrities have but it’s something that all of us ­deserve and need,” Sell says.

Sell is perhaps the most private “public” person you’ll come across and she has taken quite extraordinary steps in the name of privacy.

Shunning all forms of social media and rarely using email, Sell wears sunglasses when speaking in public to avoid facial recognition software and thinks it’s ­“irresponsible to put pictures of your kids online”. Her business card could only be described as minimalist — it contains just Wickr’s logo and Sell’s Wickr handle — and she advises using a ­Faraday cage to hold your phone so you can go off-grid.

For Sell, all of this is about being “properly paranoid”.

“The biggest threats are the data brokers that collect our ­information, hoarding it in ­databases with keys that can be easily picked,” she says.

“The last decade was about building out the public web — companies like Facebook and Twitter and the business models that they have. In the next decade the business model that will thrive and survive is one where companies make money selling a service that people will want to pay for.”

Sell and her co-founders are betting on Wickr being one of those services.

But while the free messaging app is great for increasing user numbers and brand awareness, there’s no money to be made when you have no data to sell. Instead, Wickr is selling its protocol to security-conscious businesses.

“Underneath what we really are is a protocol that does seamless key management,” Sell says.

“That secure protocol is applicable to every enterprise out there. They need a way to have secure communications. So we’re selling to enterprises.”

Wickr doesn’t currently sell its protocol to governments, but ­according to Sell, that could soon change.

“We will (sell to governments). We haven’t yet but governments use our free app and are very interested in it.”

Sell believes the private web will grow over the next decade to be just as big as the public web. Wickr is one example of the ­private web and as information gets more intimate we need to think carefully about privacy and the responsibility of holding such sensitive personal information, she says.

“It’s similar to hazardous waste and it needs to be treated as such,” she says.

“I don’t think we’re in a tech bubble but I do believe we’re in a big data bubble. Companies are hoarding information because they might be able to use it later. Eventually we’re going to reach a tipping point, where hoarding that data is going to cost your company more than the benefit of having it.”

One Response to “Privacy is the new black”

  1. Privacy is the new black | Australian Law Blogs

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