Anonymity is the new black: the rise of incognito tech

6 years, 2 months ago


The ease with which personal information can now be shared is putting consumers on their guard. With new technologies and devices emerging all the time, people are waking up to the threats posed to their anonymity. By Ben Maynard and Elaine Cameron.

Only a short while ago, what the future had in store for us belonged to the realm of science fiction.
Now we live in a world where our every move can be tracked, interpreted, stored and explored. The tensions between information freedom and personal control are reaching breaking point today and not just because of the ease of sharing information.
There are massive commercial, government and individual interests that have a great deal to benefit from all of us revealing highly specific personal information, much of it out there in the public domain by default. We are in very real danger of losing that most precious of liberties: anonymity.
Thanks to advances in computing and the streams of data we create through smartphone, wearable tech and Internet use, prediction models for individual behaviour grow smarter every day. Whether we’ll commit a crime or fall victim to one, if we’ll contract a specific strain of flu, will soon be easily determined.
The ramifications of this unprecedented access to data are manifold. Most new cars will have a type of black box on board. That black box will know exactly where we are, how fast we’re driving, and many other details of our driving habits. This begs the question of, who owns that data? The insurance company, the car manufacturer, the driver? Whilst technology advances exponentially, regulations and legislations lag behind.
Consumers are waking up to the possibility of monetising their data and if they can’t do so, they will look to hide it.
Welcome to the world of ‘Incognito Tech’ where anonymity is the new black.
(Invisible) data
In light of recent contentious revelations around data gathering and mass surveillance, customers will increasingly demand transparency from brands, web communities and services about how their data is used, stored and managed.
They’re also going to become more proactive about leveraging their data for incentives, discounts and other rewards. A new class of aggregator will appear in the form of intermediaries that help consumers to manage their data and their relationship with providers. If customers cannot plainly see the benefit of allowing their data to be known, they will look to hide it.
Many businesses are reliant on customer-generated information as an important source of data for customer insight programmes. However, Ernst & Young’s Big Data Backlash study predicts half of consumers will withhold personal information from business by 2018 and Infosecurity Magazine has dubbed 2014 The Year of Encryption.
The removal of personal identity from a social media platform reduces risk and results in a higher level of authenticity. This is already manifesting itself in the popularity of anonymous and ephemeral social networks and communication channels such as SnapChat and SocialNumber where you are invited to ‘friend the world’ using just a number as your identity. DuckDuckGo – a search engine that tracks far less data than Google – has seen usage more than double in the last year, and now serves 4.3 million search queries every day.
Wearable (shareable) tech
In today’s Attention Deficit Economy, wearable tech offers an undeniably attractive opportunity for companies to engage directly with customers. The wearable category shows the greatest potential when brands start to use devices (and embedded services) to learn from a wearer’s routines and accurately apply those findings to specific personal and location-relevant situations.
If brands can successfully harness the unique opportunities of wearable technology and focus on the end goal of fitting into and improving a person’s lifestyle by delivering the right updates at the right time, they have the potential to build a whole new era of deeper customer relationships.
This inevitably raises serious privacy questions, regardless of the many benefits it offers for healthcare, emergency response, and commerce. But if these concerns are managed sensitively and intelligently, such data can be used to improve the consumer experience while creating efficiencies for companies.
Trends such as the ageing population, mobile connectivity and the move towards telemedicine reinforce the likelihood of wearables becoming a new communications platform. The combination of sensor, actuator and communicator could prove to be a compelling value proposition to patient, physician and insurance companies alike.
However, as end-users become more sophisticated and technology grows increasingly invasive, it will take truly intelligent features and services to convince consumers that wearable devices are an essential part of life.
The internet of (hidden) things
There are already almost twice as many "things" connected on the internet than people. That number is projected to rise to 50bn connected devices by 2020. Industries that already "understand" IoT will see the most immediate growth, such as industrial production/automotive, transportation, and energy/utilities.
The Internet of things (many of them hidden) is arguably going to bring about as great a change in our lives as the introduction of the internet itself. If you imagine a world where everything has a sensor that can communicate, the combination of all these things starts to become very powerful.
It can also go very wrong. The more connected our world becomes, the greater potential for all these sensors and devices to communicate in unforeseen ways, leading to unexpected consequences. While this amazing technology can certainly provide our lives with all sorts of great conveniences, the trade-off for our security could be immense.
To learn more about what you should be doing to manage the issues around  The Rise Incognito Tech click here:FUTURE Perspective Trend Insight
Authors’ Details
Ben Maynard Chair, EMEA Technology Practice at Burson-Marsteller. With close to 20 years’ sector experience, Ben Maynard has helped manage the reputations of some of the biggest players in the communications and IT industry, as well as building those of start-ups and transitioning those of high-growth organisations experiencing significant change. Ben’s expertise is in creating opinion-based points of view that contextualise enterprise technology for the audiences and markets that clients need to influence. For example; working with SAP he helped position R/3 as the foundation for successful e-business; for Adobe working to establish the link between document management and customer service innovation; and for Vodafone communicating a unified communications strategy for SME’s in the UK. Most recently he has worked with pioneers such as Silver Spring Networks seeking to build the communications infrastructure to support the Smart Grid. 
Elaine Cameron is Burson-Marsteller EMEA’s resident Futurist & Director of Strategic Research. Elaine writes, speaks and tweets @FUTUREPersp on all topics around PR and communications. Specialist subjects include The Future of Death, Leadership & Feminomics and The Future of Storytelling for Business.

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The Author

Ben Maynard

Ben Maynard Chair, EMEA Technology Practice at Burson-Marsteller. With close to 20 years’ sector experience, Ben Maynard has helped manage the reputations of some of the biggest players in the communications and IT industry.

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