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September 29, 2021

Information Technology

How AI Is Affecting Information Privacy and Data

What is AI?

AI, which stands for artificial intelligence, is a technological advancement where machines or robots mimic human intelligence to carry out tasks. As more and more online retailers, streaming services, and healthcare systems adopt AI technology, it’s likely you’ve experienced some form of it without even knowing.

While AI is still relatively new technology, its impact has been swift. It makes shopping simpler, healthcare smarter, and daily life more convenient. Businesses are also recognizing its benefits: Nearly 80% of company executives say they’re deploying AI and seeing value from it.

Recently, AI has come up in discussions about cybersecurity, information, and data privacy. This guide will dive deeper into how AI is affecting data privacy and how it can be protected.

What Privacy Issues Arise from AI?

Although AI technology has many benefits for businesses and consumers, it also gives rise to a number of data privacy issues. The most visible ones being:

Data Exploitation

The big draw of AI is its ability to gather and analyze massive quantities of data from different sources to increase information gathering for its users—but that comes with drawbacks. Many people don’t realize the products, devices, and networks they use every day have features that complicate data privacy, or make them vulnerable to data exploitation by third parties. In some cases, the data collection performed on these systems, including personal data, can be exploited by businesses to gain marketing insights which they then utilize for customer engagement or sell to other companies.

Identification and Tracking

Some AI applications, such as self-driving cars, have the ability to track your location and driving habits to help the car understand its surroundings and act accordingly. While this technology can help make cars safer and smarter, it also opens more opportunities for your personal information to become part of a larger data set that can be tracked across different devices in your home, work, or public spaces.

Inaccuracies and Biases

Facial recognition has become a widely adopted AI application used in law enforcement to help identify criminals in public spaces and crowds. But like any AI technology, it provides no guarantee of accurate results. In some instances, this technology has led to discriminatory or biased outcomes and errors that have been shown to disproportionally affect certain groups of people.

Prediction

AI can use machine-learning algorithms to assume what information you want to see on the internet and social media—and then serve up information based on that assumption. You may notice this when you receive personalized Google search results or a personalized Facebook newsfeed. This is also known as a “filter bubble.” The potential issue with filter bubbles is that someone might get less contact with contradicting viewpoints, which could cause them to become intellectually isolated.

Vulnerability to Attacks

While AI has been shown to improve security, it can also make it easier for cybercriminals to penetrate systems with no human intervention. According to a recent report by CEPS, the impact of AI on cybersecurity will likely expand the threat landscape and introduce new threats, which could cause significant damage to organizations that don’t have adequate cybersecurity measures in place.

Is This Type of Data Collection Legal?

Data collection in most cases is legal. In fact, in the U.S. there is no wholistic federal legal standard for privacy protection with regard to the internet or apps. Some governmental standards concerning privacy rights have begun to be implemented at the state level however. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) requires that businesses notify users of what type of information is being gathered, provide a method for users to opt out of some portions of the data collection, control whether their data can be sold or not, and requires the business not discriminate against the user for doing so. The European Union also has a similar law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

These laws have required companies to provide more transparency about the way they collect, store, and share your information with third parties.

The lack of holistic regulations does not mean that every company out there is unconcerned about data privacy. Some large companies including Google and Amazon have recently begun to lobby for updated internet regulations which would ideally address data privacy in some manner. While the methods for the protection of data security that could be implemented as part of such an undertaking is unclear, data privacy is a topic that will continue to affect us all now and into the future.

How is Digital Privacy Protected?

Both organizations and individuals can do their part to protect digital data privacy. For organizations, that starts with having the right security systems in place, hiring the right experts to manage them, and following data privacy laws. Here are some other general data protection strategies to help enhance your data privacy:

Anonymous Networks

One way you can protect your digital privacy is to use anonymous networks and search engines that use aggressive data security while browsing online. Freenet, I2P, and TOR are some examples. These anonymous networks use end-to-end encryption so that the data you send or receive can’t be tapped into. Another option is to use Duckduckgo, which is a search engine dedicated to preventing you from being tracked online. Unlike most other search engines, duckduckgo does not collect, share or store your personal information.

Encryption

Most legitimate websites use what’s called “secure sockets layer” (SSL), which is a form of encrypting data when it’s being sent to and from a website. This keeps attackers from accessing that private data. Look for the padlock icon in the URL bar, and the “s” in the “https://” to make sure you are conducting secure, encrypted transactions online.

Open-Source Web Browsers and Operating Systems

It’s important to choose web browsers that are open-source—such as Firefox, Chrome, or Brave. These browsers can be audited for security vulnerabilities making them more secure against hackers and browser hijackers.

Consider an Android Cellphone

Unlike Microsoft or Apple phones, Android smartphones use open-source software that doesn’t require your data for functionality. Therefore, many experts believe an Android phone comes with fewer privacy risks.

Stronger Security Systems

As AI advances, organizations need stronger security systems and more cybersecurity professionals to maintain those systems. For this reason, jobs in IT, data management, and data science are in demand like never before. If you’re interested in being part of a security team that protects organizations and their data, getting an online degree in cybersecurity or computer science can put you on the right path.

Even with the best protections, a data breach can still happen. So it's important to be cautious about what information you're sharing online or on the internet and use secure passwords that are unique for each website that you choose to share your information with. In the event of a data breach, this can minimize the amount of sensitive information that is exposed in the data breach.

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