In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate around online privacy and the erosion thereof.
Most people realise that even though they don't have anything to hide as such, the adage that "anything you say can and will be used against you" is true.
What's it worth though? Does enhanced privacy carry any actual value as such, or have we been overestimating the benefits of confidentiality?
It doesn't look like it: in April this year, Apple made a relatively small change in its iOS mobile operating system that powers iPhones and iPads.
The changes allowed users to opt out of being tracked by the apps they use. The App Tracking Transparency framework seems to have been exactly what users wanted, as only a tiny number opted into being followed around the internet by Meta/Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.
The social networks and content sharing platforms are now smarting from Apple's move, having experienced a reported revenue decline of almost US$10 billion. That gives you an idea of how much you as the product are worth. It's also hugely annoying as you don't get a share of the revenue generated while different providers play fast and loose with your information, sharing it with goodness knows how many third parties.
No wonder then that Meta/Facebook took out newspaper ads, begging users to allow themselves to be tracked.
It's only going to get tighter for social networks and adtech companies, as users become increasingly aware of how they're followed around the internet and refuse to consent to it. Nobody cares if tracking allows for more relevant ads, or whatever: there's a limit to how much parasitic surveillance capitalism is okay, and we hit that threshold long ago.
Using cookies, the little text files that browsers can set and read on user devices is going away, depriving data brokers of information gathering (and watch out for Google's fancily named Federated Learning of Cohorts (FloC) replacement which nobody trusts.)
In iOS 15 and newer, you can already cloak your internet protocol (IP) address, which means geolocation as in pinpointing where you and your device are will be harder. I've got it turned on with relatively few side-effects. The occasional site will tell me to go away because it thinks I'm not in the country where I say I am. This is a good filter that alerts me to poor code quality overall, and acts like a warning not to trust the site in question.
Telcos and internet providers will be watching this space with glee. Although they provide the means of connection, they are by and large cut out from the digital revenue rivers of gold that flows towards over-the-top (OTT) service providers.
The OTT service providers, as in Facebook and Google, contribute nothing towards the cost of building and maintaining the physical network infrastructure that reaches you and I. It didn't use to be like that, in an era not so long ago when internet providers were able to charge for access to their subscribers to provide value-added services.
Instead of enabling users to do more on the internet, selling targeted ads has turned out to be the way to make money for providers, especially if they add a bit of privacy violation and excessive data collection on top. That business model is starting to look dead in the water now, not just because of Apple cutting it off by the knees, but regulators with Very Big Sticks.
Indeed, making it far harder than in the past to siphon off user data from their actions on the internet.
Privacy will be not just "nice to have" but necessary for companies to factor in from now. So much so that it is being renamed, to better incorporate security as well. They are not the same but it's difficult to have privacy without security for obvious reasons.
Coming up is confidential computing, which some analysts think will bring in a market reaching the US$50b range in just five years' time. Confidential computing is something that hardware vendors are eyeing up, with specialised chips that protect sensitive workloads.
It is aimed at cloud computing, but you can already enjoy the fruits of that labour in personal devices that contain specialised subsystems that secure data flows and information stores so as to indeed keep your computing confidential.
From now, it will no longer be enough for local developers to passively "add privacy" (read: copy someone else's long statement on user data confidentiality). Developers will need to actively consider how they can best protect user privacy, sooner rather than later.