“Security” in the Eye of the Developer- Privacy as a Buzzword in the Market

Demands for consumer privacy are constantly clashing with usability. While there is high demand for data privacy, a major challenge to the supply of such security is the ability of technologies to develop them while remaining usable enough for the average consumer. For example, Snap Chat, an app that promises the disappearance of images sent after open, came under criticism when the images of its many users were posted online- clearly not as disappeared as they were thought to be. Because privacy is in high demand, it has become more a buzzword marketing tool, rather than an actual quality of many products. Not all “private” services, apps, hardware, etc. are created equal in the eyes of cyber security. Randy Sandvik, former developer for Tor and technologist with Freedom of the Press Foundation, explains,

A lot of opportunists will jump at the chance to provide users with this type of service… Unfortunately they are going the wrong way about it and using a lot of marketing buzzwords, but don’t really have users’ privacy or anonymity as the top goal.”

Whisper, an anonymous messaging app recently came under scrutiny when the Guardian reported the app tracked users’ locations, including those of users who had opted out of that feature. While the app does market itself as anonymous, the product lacks the technical abilities to achieve those demands. Other popular buzzwords include secret, privacy friendly, and “NSA-proof,” but the meaning of such descriptions are often up to the product itself. Consumers can’t assume the privacy advertised is the privacy he or she desires.

Some of these tools are hard to get started with — they are difficult or cumbersome to use,” she said. “Ask anyone who frequently sends encrypted e-mail, and a lot of them will say they will end up being slower to respond to encrypted messages just because it takes more time to go through the process.”- Sandvik

With so many secure products and services on offer, consumers are faced with the challenge of deciphering on their own which are offering a service they are technically unable to provide. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently published a guide called the Surveillance Self-Defense to help consumers understand digital security.


Read more here- “Everyone Wants to Sell Privacy in the Post-Snowden World. But Who Can You Trust?” (Andrea Peterson, The Washington Post)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.


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