Digital privacy: Phantom.me help users become ‘invisible’ online
AS mobile emerges as the default mode of our digital experiences, the fading of our digital privacy is rising as a major issue in society in general.
Social media and today’s data-driven economy has made one product more valuable than all others: the customer itself.
Our data is a huge concern for marketers and advertisers intent on getting their message to the right people, at the right time, and this is all done through data collection. Unfortunately, this all comes with a hefty price, our privacy. Despite our universal right to privacy, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the digital landscape and online businesses have changed our relationship to our data and privacy by insinuating certain platforms and services into the middle of our lives.
“After more than 15 years in the digital advertising and marketing arena, it was clear to me an inherent part of nearly all businesses in the online market is collecting and using data on users for revenue purposes,” said Miki Balin, Founder & CEO of Phantom.me, to Tech Wire Asia in an email interview.
He explained that user data has become a default form of revenue for these industries, and represents a significant portion of revenues for online businesses, whether it’s through requests for sharing locations, metadata, and media.
“Every time users log into their social media or other servers, advertising and online businesses gather more information on the users,” he said. “This information is used by online businesses not only to provide services to users, but mainly to increase their marketing dollars.”
As a result, users have become trapped in a cycle of commercialized data and sacrificed privacy that has lost its opt-in mode. Now, users have to actively seek out the off buttons for tracking features, document sharing and so on. Balin says that our increasing reliance on smartphones and mobile devices has primed us for data vulnerability, and this danger increases if we lose our devices.
“If a mobile phone falls into the wrong hands, because it’s lost or stolen, or because someone uses the phone and accidentally sees something they shouldn’t, a person’s private life is compromised,” he said. “The implications of this can even result in personal danger depending on the information accessed, and by whom.”
Yet it’s not as if the majority of us will simply enact an exodus of social media platforms, which are still hugely useful and an embedded part of our daily lives. In fact, Balin said that “this is the future”- but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept that our relationship with privacy must now be accompanied by a “nice to have” attitude rather than a “need to have” one.
“There are certain situations in everyday life, and times during the day when we don’t want to share or even connect, but rather keep our information, activities, photos, and videos private and protected,” he said.
“We believe the reason we arrived at a ‘nice to have’ attitude towards privacy is that beat by beat, we have given up on our privacy for free services and convenience.”
He explained that all the “free” and convenient services we enjoy on the Internet today – from email, to cloud storage, to social media sites – aren’t actually free, we just can’t see the costs. Instead, we’re paying for access to these services with our lives, whether it’s the explicit data that we’ve signed away with thoughtless acceptance of Terms and Conditions, or the metadata our devices give off which are accessible to everyone.
“We pay for these services with our privacy, and give away enormous amounts of data related to our personal lives: Where we work, live, and go every day, who we meet, what we do, want and like, and basically everything about us.”
“This pays for online business servers, R&D, and pizza. We as users are making businesses rich by selling ourselves.”
There is danger in allowing our personal lives to be sold off piecemeal like this, but that doesn’t mean we have to totally disconnect from digital. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that our right to privacy can live side-by-side an open, unfettered Internet landscape, but we need the right tools to get there.
Balin founded his company Phantom.me as a way to empower Internet users with an easy, safe way to experience digital without worrying that they are compromising themselves and their privacy. Launched in conjunction with Human Rights Day, on Dec 10, the Phantom.me app leverages AES256 encryption standards to help users “disappear” whenever they need to connect.
“For all those moments you need to keep things private: browse the web without anyone tracking you, take photos no one will see except for you and keep them encrypted, chat securely with no one being able to go into your log, and use your mobile phone without anyone marking or targeting you,” he explained.
— The Privacy Trap (@ThePrivacyTrap) December 13, 2013
The powerful encryption in the app makes browsing, photo-taking, communication, and file management virtually invisible to everyone but the owner of a device.
“The funny thing is, if you ask people think privacy is important, you will get an almost unanimous ‘Yes’ answer,” Balin said in response to whether people are conscious of the loss of their privacy.
“But ask about the measures that can take to achieve that, and most people will not even know where to begin.We think people are concerned about privacy, whether they are savvy about the details or not.”
He said our privacy can be compromised at several sources: when data is collected, stored in transparent channels, and when our data is sold by application operators to third parties. The Phantom.me app is an attempt to stop those flows at its most efficient source by creating a single space, independent of other mobile platforms.
Balin said that Phantom.me takes a “zero-knowledge approach” to their users’ data by implementing overall encryption and unique passwords for every file. This means that no government or authority can compel the company to give up users’ information in order to provide more overall protection.
The app is offered at no cost to persecuted peoples across the world through the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as part of a greater effort to support and protect human rights.
“The right to privacy was important enough to be internationally recognized 70 years ago, and today it’s more relevant than ever,” said Balin said in a press statement.
“Mobile phone information inherently falls under the right to privacy, and we developed Phantom.me to be 100 percent trusted technology that keeps mobile phone activity and data within complete control of phone owners.”