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Facebook, Privacy and the Business of Data

Recent revelations from Facebook have highlights again how the business of data puts the privacy of wide populations at risk. Many of the largest and most successful companies, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and more build highly profitable businesses by deriving insights from our personal information to better sell us products. More efficient sales and marketing is not a problem in itself, but this efficiency too often comes at the risk of consumer privacy.

Modern technology companies do not widely utilize capabilities that would allow them to store privacy-sensitive information in a protected manner that would allow them to derive insights from this data. There is a wide array of newly practical technologies that enable computing on encrypted data, with homomorphic encryption being a prime example of such a privacy preserving technology that could be used to better protect consumers.

The potential dangers of data aggregation and the lack of privacy lead to the possibility of wide data leakage, either through the actions of malicious insiders or hackers. See for example the dramatic impacts that the Equifax and OPM hacks have had on their victims. Risks to the consumer in these scenarios are driven by a lack of control of private information by data owners combined with an aggregation of information in a single location that is a ripe target for bad actors.

Homomorphic encryption enables the sharing and processing of data even while the data is encrypted, without the sharing of decryption keys. Homomorphic encryption has become highly practical in recent years through the efforts of Duality and her co-founders. If used by large privacy-sensitive data aggregators such Facebook, Equifax, OPM and others, homomorphic encryption would allow consumers to protect their information while enabled companies such as Facebook to derive valuable insights from the data without actually sharing the data.

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