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Data privacy: 3 tips for surviving the techlash

The UK was still reeling from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, when Edward Snowden blew the whistle. It was 2013, and the former NSA analyst had just leaked thousands of classified CIA documents to the press, revealing unprecedent data privacy violations conducted by the intelligence agencies in the UK, USA and Australia.

The Snowden revelations sparked a global conversation about the right to privacy. And thanks to the constant fuel of further data breaches—from Ashley Madison to Cambridge Analytica—it’s a conversation that is still going.

Over the last two decades we’ve seen some incredible technological advances. The 2000s brought us GPS, hybrid cars, camera phones, Facebook and Twitter. The 2010s have introduced us to drones, self-driving cars, virtual assistants, Tinder, Snapchat and Bitcoin. But with each new technology comes fresh privacy concerns. Facebook showing you ads based on what it has overheard you talking about. Alexa recording your private conversations and sending them to your colleagues. Drones flying over your house filming your kids.

Nearly every day the media reports another breach of data privacy. Our information is being collected and distributed not only without our consent, but without our knowledge. And people are talking about it.

The techlash

It wouldn’t be a growing trend without an addition to the Oxford dictionary.


A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies.

Describing the backlash towards Big Tech, “techlash” was the Financial Times’ Year In A Word for 2018. The twelve months prior had seen many significant data breaches. The most notable of these was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which an incredible 87 million Facebook profiles were exploited for the purpose of influencing elections. Worse still, after discovering the enormous breach, Facebook decided they were better off covering it up. Once this all came to light, #deletefacebook started trending on Twitter as people began to question whether they could trust the social media giant.

Add to that the introduction of GDPR, and the ongoing investigation into Russian trolls, and it’s unsurprising that data privacy was fast becoming a hot topic.

Whether fears over data privacy, disinformation, anti-competitive practices, and tech’s impact on mental health can be abated […] remains to be seen, but the widespread adoption of the word techlash this year indicates that the issue is at the forefront of public consciousness.

Word of the Year 2018: shortlist, Oxford University Press

And it remains at the forefront, with the biggest violations of 2019 so far involving facial recognition. News stories from the last few weeks include police forces conducting secretive facial recognition trials, and yet another major data breach which, this time, included the fingerprints and facial recognition scans of over 1 million people.

The news is providing constant reminders that our data is at risk; not just from a government that is trying to root out terrorists, but from companies who want to advertise at you, and foreign governments who want to influence your politics.

The future of the web

Earlier this year, Mozilla (who built Firefox) surveyed over 20,000 people from 160 different countries about the future of the internet. Nearly three quarters of respondents said their top concern was privacy violations.

We need more privacy and security. Without a doubt, privacy and security ranked highest among people’s concerns, regardless of geography, age, or gender. We found that people are more likely to feel trust and be optimistic about technological development when they feel their privacy is respected and their online experiences are secure. Without these values, people hold back their participation online.

We asked, you answered: The future of the web should be private, Mozilla.org

If I haven’t persuaded you yet, I won’t be able to: data privacy is a growing concern among your customers, and it’s only getting more serious.

But what can you do?

1. Don’t be ignorant.

Technology and the law surrounding data privacy and security is constantly changing and it is important that we all keep up with it. Whether it’s installing an SSL certificate on your website to transmit data securely, or making sure your Contact form is inline with GDPR, don’t use ignorance as an excuse.

If you’re not confident in your website’s ability to protect people’s data, ask us to help.

2. Don’t be faceless.

It can be hard to trust someone you don’t even know. Your company needs a personality.

Provide multiple ways to contact your company. Your customers need to feel like they can reach you if they need to. Be ready to communicate with them on their chosen platform. No, not everyone is happy resolving their problems in a series of tweets, but not everyone is comfortable making a phone call either.

Be human with your customers.

3. Don’t be creepy.

Have a form on your website? Don’t ask for information about your customers that you don’t need to know. Or at the very least, make it clear which fields are optional.

And maybe consider using ‘Why do we need this?’ tooltips to explain why you need their date of birth or gender. If you don’t have a reason you can explain to your customers, don’t ask for the data.

Be clear and transparent about your cookies. It’s fine if you’ve got cookies that are essential to the use of your website, but say so. Make it easy for someone to opt out of all non-essential cookies and still use your website. Don’t make them jump through several hoops just to get past your cookie notice unscathed.

Next steps

This is just the beginning. Today sees the release of Edward Snowden’s book, Permanent Record, which is just further evidence that this conversation is still very much ongoing.

It’s likely we’re going to see further data breaches from Big Tech companies, followed by increased government regulation, and further caution from users. And our best defence against the techlash is to be on the right side of it.

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