Loss of Privacy in the Digital Era – Trust is the Future Capital for Organisations

Loss of Privacy in the Digital Era – Trust is the Future Capital for Organisations

How data transparency and cybersecurity can help to achieve a competitive edge.

Text: Linnea Sinkkilä

While the value of data is rising, the loss of privacy in the digital era is becoming a reality. For individuals, this does not necessarily mean an Orwellian dystopia is about to take place – on the contrary, in exchange of personal data we can ease the daily life by letting smart technology take care of our needs. But giving up personal data requires trust: consumers need to be able to trust organisations to handle their data ethically and keep it safe from hackers, and other cyber threats – but also from the more obscure purposes organisations themselves might have.

Data is the currency of the digital age. Some organisations understood this long before others and have been able to capitalise on data, sometimes without explicit consent from the users. As the usage of personal data is becoming more regulated as the European GDPR or California Consumer Privacy Act show, demand for data is nonetheless higher than ever: with AI stepping in, organisations are looking to gather even more data to train their machine learning algorithms.

Meanwhile, people’s trust in how companies handle their data is fading – over 2/3 of Americans do not trust companies to sell personal data ethically. But the convenience of connected, smart devices still ensures that people are willing to give up personal data despite the risks associated with smart technology.


Smart technology connects us to the internet, constantly transmitting data about our behaviour, habits, tastes, and even health. As our lives are more and more entwined with smart technology, apps and online platforms, it is now close to impossible to opt-out entirely. Letting smart devices collect user data seems to be the inescapable trade-off in online interaction, even if it costs our privacy and makes us targets for personalised marketing and, more unsettlingly, to cyberattacks and identity thefts.

While most people are aware of the privacy and cybersecurity issues related to smart technology, they still carelessly engage in risky online activities such as using public Wi-Fi networks or letting webpages to their save credit card information. In fact, in a cautionary experiment done by F-Secure, it turned out that some are even ready to give up their firstborn child just to gain access to a free Wi-Fi. As this experiment shows, a careful reading of terms and conditions can be too much of a hassle, especially when we are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of different licence agreements.

Even though people may personally have lax attitudes towards online security, they still expect organisations to diligently protect their user data and handle it in a safe, ethical and transparent way. But as hackers attack every 39 seconds and data-breaches are becoming more common, it is no wonder that the general population’s trust in organisations’ ability to keep their data safe is eroding.


In addition to cyberattacks, consumers worry about companies using their data for commercial purposes without consent. As data is being increasingly commoditised, some companies may see this as an opportunity to grab all consumer data they can and use it as they please, expecting people to just get over it. However, organisations with such arrogant attitudes towards personal data may soon discover the short-sighted nature of this strategy: once lost, the trust may never be gained back.

It is no longer just data, then, that should be seen as an economic asset. If organisations fail to take necessary action to ensure cybersecurity and invest in privacy policies, they may experience significant financial losses in addition to losing reputation – ultimately, this may even kill a company.

While the issue of privacy has become more central than ever, organisations are just beginning to realise that trust and transparency will be the critical factors in gaining consumers’ confidence in the future. Organisations that allow people to have more control over their data, are transparent about its use and their data protection measures and, most importantly, give fair value in exchange for it, will likely gain a competitive edge.

Therefore, getting ahead in the internet privacy and security game is imperative to any organisation willing to make their business thrive in the digital era.


Smart devices continuously collect and transmit masses of user data, creating vast databases for organisations to dig in. Development of artificial intelligence is likely to accelerate this trend even further and raise the analysis of personal data to a whole new level.

In the future, as technology becomes more ubiquitous with cameras and monitors embedded in the built environment, giving consent to the usage of personal data becomes next to impossible.

This development could also lead to an increasing amount of cyber hazards, eventually leaving people helpless in efforts to protect their privacy. But as governments and legislators are stepping in to ensure data privacy and security, they are also stepping on the toes of organisations deploying machine learning algorithms that rely on consumer data.

Finding a solution to the loss of privacy in the digital era that works for all parties is not an easy task, then. But changing the way consumers and organisations perceive privacy could alleviate the discords around privacy in the future: instead of regarding data as a commodity, it should be seen as information that, when given a chance to flow freely, can bring significant benefits for organisations, consumers and the whole society in general.

Similarly, re-thinking privacy and data security as a product to be offered for customers could help in building a holistic, transparent approach to data protection within organisations and thus win back consumers’ trust.


To write this article, Futures Platform’s futurists have collected the data from different phenomena and studied linkages between them. Here are the three colliding phenomena that are shaping the future of data privacy.  

Rising Value of Data

Data has become the new strategic raw material for the world economy. As the amount of data on the Internet will increase exponentially in the coming decades, we are moving into a data economy, which will open doors to success for completely new kinds of players. A key driver of this development is the rapid increase in the number of devices connected to the Internet and especially the emerging Internet of Things (IoT).  

Right to Privacy

People carry an increasing number of mobile devices that are always connected to Internet services as well as other devices in their vicinity. This enables continuous surveillance and monitoring, as well as accurate profiling. Piece by piece, this development eats away our right to privacy. With the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G increasingly connecting more devices, the notion of privacy may be further transformed in the future. People may be increasingly willing to exchange privacy for the convenience offered by smart homes and devices.  

AI Machine Learning

Machine learning uses complex algorithms to analyse large data sets to produce probabilities and likeness between variables. It predicts outcomes based on past occurrences, pattern recognition, and statistics. Machine learning benefits primarily large companies or entities such as nation-states, who possess large data sets, and have the resources to analyse them. Usage of these data sets also raises questions about privacy, especially if the machine learning code will be released as open-source, and the data that exists in the public domain can be easily cross-referenced

This article was originally published on the Future Proof blog by Futures Platform


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