2020 was a bit of a weird one.
A pandemic swept across the world causing mass proliferation of Zoom quizzes, awkward elbow bumps, and stickers on the floor telling us where to stand.
The new normal didn’t seem normal and then everyone wished it would go away and bring back the old normal.
There were lockdowns, anti-social distancing, and virtual everything.
Big tech was hauled in front of Congress multiple times but is still harvesting our data for huge profits — which got even bigger.
Many businesses realized that most people can work from home — which employees had been trying to tell them for years. Cybercrime got real and we saw the lighting of a tinderbox of technological transformation that just waiting to flare into life.
So not much then.
Let’s take a closer look at what this year means for your privacy and ponder on what might be around the corner as we enter 2021.
What Changed in 2020?
As a result of being online so much more, people starting taking their online privacy more seriously. Meanwhile, big tech and social media companies came under more scrutiny and major cyberattacks rocked governments and big business.
Let’s look in more detail at the key changes that this black swan year marking the beginning of a new decade brought us.
There Was a Workplace Transformation
2020 saw a shift from the traditional office to the spare-bedroom office. A Stanford study from June found that the majority of the US workforce, at 42%, was working from home, given that another 33% were not working.
Remote work was already on the rise before Covid, aided by the advances in video calling, cloud collaboration tools, file-sharing, and reliable internet connections, but the real difference now is the change in attitude towards work from home.
The stigma is gone.
With benefits like fewer distractions, fewer unnecessary meetings, and more flexibility, many employers report that productivity is up.
Whereas before it was seen as a way to bunk off and gain a cheeky sick day, now it has been painted as the heroic way to save the world from the virus. With employees enjoying the freedom it brings, and more employers on board for the potential benefits, working from home is certainly going to become more of a norm for many office workers.
People Started to Notice Their Personal Digital Footprint
It wasn’t just coronaviruses that made the news in 2020. Computer viruses and cyber-attacks were on the increase as desperate people were taken advantage of by ruthless cyber crooks.
This coupled with the release of The Social Dilemma woke more people up to the importance of being aware of their digital footprint. This is the trail of information you unwittingly leave behind every time you visit a webpage, browse social media, or buy a product online.
As the Netflix documentary told us straight from the horse’s mouth, social media companies are data-mining machines, designed to harvest information about you and your habits. This is used to create a profile of you so that ads can be targeted with accuracy to maximise profits.
It’s not just social media either. Whenever you visit a website or click on a link online, you are being tracked and companies are bidding for your attention.
More people are waking up to the risks this poses and the importance of being more aware of your digital footprint.
Erasing your tracks as you go as much as possible may be wise in 2021.
Big Tech Got Bigger
Despite being hauled in front of politicians to answer for their monopolistic practices and intrusion into users’ privacy, Big Tech remains a force to be reckoned with. In fact, with many small businesses shut down, and smaller players struggling to survive, Big Tech got even bigger, with giants like Amazon benefiting from high street shutdowns and making record profits.
The social media giants have taken it upon themselves to be the ultimate arbiters of truth, calling themselves publishers when they want to moderate user content and control the narrative, and platforms when they want to dodge responsibility.
This has allowed them to buy out even more market share and gain even more power. Now is not the time to let your guard down against this unstoppable force.
Overall, 2020 Taught Us to Take Privacy More Seriously
As more and more parts of everyday life went digital in 2020, many of us realised that online privacy is just as important as real-world privacy. (Especially for those who went to the toilet with the headphone mic still live on a conference call).
Big data brings with it big power and big dangers.
Many more people are turning away from social media platforms, using VPNs to cover their tracks, and turning to tech platforms that respect their privacy and don’t auction off their information to the highest bidder.
Given this huge shift that we’ve seen, what can we expect from 2021?
It’s More Important Than Ever to Cover Your Digital Tracks in 2021
Just as governments never give up extra powers once they have them, people get used to technology and don’t tend to want to go back.
With new technologies moving faster than they can be regulated, it’s a digital wild west out there.
Tech companies can essentially do what they want and apologise later. Or just claim they had good intentions and aren’t responsible.
All of this means that you must take responsibility for your own data privacy and security.
We should expect more of the same from 2021. Continuing trends of working from home, more people conscious of cybersecurity and the importance of online privacy.
Big Tech will continue to exploit the public while making conciliatory noises during Senate hearings. So we must find other platforms if we want to protect our privacy.
New companies are sure to emerge that value their users’ privacy and make their money in other ways than selling off customer data.
In 2021, look for other pioneers like Treasure that are on your side in the fight against online tyranny.