For the past few years, people have become increasingly suspicious that our era’s “tech boom” may well be more of a tech bubble. New apps that deliver gimmicks more than services can sometimes be absurdly over-valued, as is the real estate that surrounds the Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
Say the tech boom truly is a tech bubble. Over the past few years, people have e-signed away the rights to their personal data at an unprecedented rate. What happens when that tech bubble finally bursts?
Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity set out to find an answer to this question, and released their findings just last month. They gamed out five different scenarios, all of which seemed to be likely courses of events given current trends in online security. These scenarios are the following:
“The New Normal,” when private cyberattacks become entirely normal and large-scale attacks are increasingly common too; “Omega,” when heightened technological sophistication enables data scientists to predict and manipulate the behavior of single individuals with high degrees of accuracy, to the point that it becomes a dangerous weapon the likes of which has never been seen; “Bubble 2.0,” when the advertising-driven business model for major internet companies falls apart, largely due to overvalued web companies finally collapsing. What follows is a ‘war for data’ when financially stressed companies sell user data in a desperate attempt to make back some of their lost funds; “Intentional Internet of Things,” when the Internet of Things becomes a powerful cultural force capable of solving major problems in education, the environment, health, work productivity, etc., but hackers find countless new opportunities to manipulate and repurpose this technology; and “Sensorium (Internet of Emotion),” when wearable devices assess wearer’s emotional states, allowing them to be tracked and manipulated.
While all of the situations seem to bring forward a future where threatening new relationships with technology take hold, privacy and security advocates alike have felt that the biggest potential threat is the “Bubble 2.0” scenario.
In “Bubble 2.0,” the researchers behind the report imagine the financial collapse of our current “Internet Age.” They believe it will begin with a general disillusionment with Silicon Valley, leading many serious developers to find more attractive jobs in Asia. The researchers believe that Europe will continue to regulate its own technology, only increasing its aggression, and investors will lose interest in buzzwords like “innovation.” A triggering event will happen like an overseas revolution or contentious election, markets will shake up, and a collapse will start. Stock prices will plummet.
According to the group, at this point desperate companies will begin to sell detailed data that they’ve collected about their users, regardless of whether it’s personally identifiable information, data about preferences, habits and hobbies, or national-security files. Potential buyers would span a wider gambit than the typical paying advertisers; criminal gangs and other manipulative people may see value in the treasure trove of data on sale after the tech bubble bursts.
And while you may hope that privacy policies and contracts would force companies to protect your data, most privacy policies that promise not to sell user data actually have a clause that allows them to do so in the case of bankruptcy or sale. Facebook is among the many companies that have added this clause to their company policy:
“If the ownership or control of all or part of our Services or their assets changes, we may transfer your information to the new owner.”
And unfortunately for consumers, it doesn’t take a doomsday bubble burst for this kind of data leak to occur. When RadioShack filed for bankruptcy last year, one of its many assets put up for sale was its meticulously compiled database of information on millions of its customers.
So bear in mind: your personal data is a commodity. You may want to be a little more protective of it.