Over the years, I have had a front row seat to the future of technology.
In my role at Y Combinator as director of admissions, I saw hundreds of startup launches. Many shared a particular attribute: they followed the path of fast-growing users and monetized data pulled from the user.
As time went on, I began to see the big picture of what our technologies were creating: a world of “Minority Report” where our every move is tracked and monetized. Some companies, like Facebook, lived by the mantra “move fast, break things.” Not only did they break things, they failed us by spreading misinformation and propaganda that ultimately cost some people their lives.
And that happened because of a growth mindset at all costs. Some of the largest consumer-facing Silicon Valley companies in the 21st century thrived by using data to sell ads with little or no regard for user privacy or safety. We have some of the brightest minds in technology; if we really wanted to, we could change things so that, at the very least, people don’t have to worry about the privacy and security of their information.
We could move towards a model where people have more control over their own data and where Silicon Valley explores innovations in data privacy and security. While there are multiple long-term approaches and potential new business models to explore, there are ways to address a privacy mindset in the short term in the first place. Here are a couple of ways to start moving toward a future where people can have control over their data.
Applications in the workplace must lead the way in enabling more secure identity technologies
We need to approach technology by consciously designing a future in which technology works for humans, businesses and society in a safe and ethical way.
Approaching tech growth without understanding or considering the consequences has eroded trust in Silicon Valley. We must do better, and we can start in the workplace by better protecting personal data through sovereign identity, an approach that gives people control and ownership over their digital identity.
Using the workplace as a starting point for better privacy and security of people’s digital identities makes sense because many technologies that have been widely adopted (such as personal computers, the Internet, mobile phones, and email) started at the workplace. work before they became home technologies. thus inheriting the fundamental principles. With a return to office life on the horizon, there is no better time than now to reexamine how we might adopt new practices in our workplaces.
We could move towards a model where people have more control over their own data and where Silicon Valley explores innovations in data privacy and security.
So how would employers do this? For starters, they can use the return to the office as a boost for contactless access and digital IDs, which protect against physical and digital data breaches, the latter of which are becoming more common.
Employees can enter the offices through their digital IDs or tokenized IDs, which are stored securely on their phones. They will no longer need to use plastic cards with their personal information and a photo printed on them, which are easy to forge or duplicate, improving security for both employer and employee.
Contactless access isn’t a big leap nowadays either. The pandemic prepared us for digital identification: As the use of contactless payment accelerated due to COVID, the switch to contactless identification will be transparent to many.
Invest in critical infrastructure focused on privacy
Token identification puts power in the hands of the user. This is crucial not just for access and identity in the workplace, but for a host of other even more important reasons. Tokenized digital IDs are encrypted and can only be used once, making it almost impossible for anyone to see the data included in the digital ID in case the system is breached. It’s like Signal, but for your digital IDs.
As even more sophisticated technologies are developed, more personal data will be produced (and that means more data is vulnerable). We don’t just have to worry about our driver’s licenses, credit cards, or social security numbers. Our biometric and personal health data, such as our medical records, are increasingly online and accessed for verification purposes. Encrypted digital IDs are incredibly important due to the prevalence of hacking and identity theft. Without tokenized digital IDs, we are all vulnerable.
We saw what happened with the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack recently. It paralyzed a large part of the US pipeline system for weeks, showing that critical parts of our infrastructure are extremely vulnerable to breaches.
Ultimately, we must think about making technology that serves humanity, not the other way around. We must also ask ourselves if the technology we create is beneficial not only for the user, but for society in general. One way to build technology that better serves humanity is to make sure it protects users and their values. Sovereign identity will be key in our future as other technologies emerge. Among other things, we will see that our digital wallets house much more than just credit cards, making the need for secure digital IDs more critical. Most importantly, individuals and businesses only need to control their own data, period.
Given the broader general awareness of privacy and security in recent years, employers must take the threat of personal data vulnerability seriously and lead the way to sovereign identity. Through the initial step of contactless access and digital IDs in the workplace, we can begin to move towards a more secure future, at least in terms of our own data and identity.