Your recent findings in the YouGov survey revealed that only 6% of those polled fully trust tech giants, including Google, Facebook and Apple, to handle their data according to privacy legislations. How can we explain such a low level of trust?
I don’t think these results come as a surprise. At the early stages of the Internet people were just happy to have all these services for free without raising any questions about why they didn’t come at a cost. But that era is long past. People are now increasingly aware of how their data is being used by tech giants. They are being followed by advertisements all over the net to the point that some even started wondering whether the likes of Google or Facebook are listening to their conversations. The numerous data scandals and misuses also contributed to destroying trust in tech giants. It’s a natural consequence that people are becoming more conscious and less trusting about how their data is being handled by big tech, which is a promising trend.
Is there a way to restore trust, or do you think we should start getting used to a trustless online world?
Our survey results show that nearly 2/3rd of the respondents believe that end-to-end encryption can help protect their digital privacy. While many providers use some sort of encryption these days, what makes end-to-end encryption unique is that it impedes the service provider from looking into the user data stored with it. As encryption happens on the user’s side, the data is only accessible to them and those they authorize.
Interestingly, our survey showed that 41% of respondents would trust Facebook more if they used end-to-end encryption. While this is promising, big privacy promises from tech companies that make money out of harvesting users’ data also have the potential of misleading users and creating a false sense of security. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that data hungry businesses will always find a way to get user data. Even if they have no access to the content of people’s messages and files, they can make useful predictions from the metadata (log in times, email address associated with the account, time spent on the platform, etc) at their disposal in unencrypted format.
So the results seem to indicate that end-to-end encryption can play a great role in restoring trust in online services. This goes against the idea, floated recently by certain governments, of introducing encryption backdoors to end-to-end encrypted services. What’s your take on these initiatives?
I’ve spoken up against backdoors on many occasions in the past. Backdoors could not only put the security of the entire Internet ecosystem at risk, but they would also endanger our ability to formulate opinions and express them freely online.
This time, the people have spoken as well. 64% believe that nobody - not even law enforcement - should have access to their information. What’s more, 62% of those polled are of the opinion that adding back-doors for law enforcement to get around privacy and security has the potential to create additional threats from criminals and terrorists.
The thinking behind legislative initiatives that would impose backdoors in E2EE apps is that it would help law enforcement catch criminals and terrorists. However, if laws like this get implemented, criminals will simply turn to other channels of communication, and ordinary people will suffer the consequences. We can't let that happen.
What would you suggest for people who understand that privacy matters and would like to protect their online data?
They should look for secure alternatives! It’s always important to do a bit of research about the company’s business model and security features. They should look for companies that build their product with privacy in mind from the start. End-to-end encryption is usually a great indication of that.
Istvan Lam is a cryptographer, co-founder and CEO of Tresorit, the end-to-end encrypted file sync and sharing tool which safeguards confidential information by design. Founded back in 2011 while Istvan was still at university, the award-winning solution now enables more than 25.000 customers globally to work safely in the cloud. Being an advocate of privacy as a human right, Istvan is passionate about raising awareness of the role of encryption in data security, and the challenges of creating policies and technologies that protect citizen’s privacy.
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