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We need to design for security and privacy, says Martha Lane Fox

The digital future is bright, but only if society works through a gear change in its relationship with technology, and demands products and services that are secure and private by design, says internet service pioneer

The internet has undergone an expected change in the past 20 years, with the emergence of powerful and dominant companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, according to Martha Lane Fox.

“When we created Lastminute.com, we never imagined the monopolies of power that would be created,” said the co-founder of Lastminute.com, member of the House of Lords, non-executive board member at Twitter, and founder and chair of charity Doteveryone.

“The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal is not the end of the world, but it is an indicator of the flawed internet that we have built, and Doteveryone is aimed at finding ways to build technology responsibly and enable people to feel empowered,” she told Infosecurity Europe 2018 in London.

Research conducted by the charity has revealed that most people feel uneasy about technology, online services and how information about them is collected and used. “While 50% of those polled felt technology has helped them in their day to day lives, only 12% said they believed that it had helped society overall,” said Lane Fox.

“Only 40% said they believed that the terms and conditions they signed up to are protecting them as consumers, 90% said they did not understand those terms and conditions, and 60% said they did not know where their personal data is going,” she said.

The Doteveryone research identified digital “blind spots” that Lane Fox said the charity is dedicated to working to eradicate.

“We found that most people don’t know that the rankings of stores are manipulated by their online news sources, don’t know how online advertising models work, that data they are sharing on one site may be shared on other sites as well, and that the pricing they see may differ from the pricing other see,” said Lane Fox.

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She believes it is “vital” not to become Luddites, but at the same time to help people to understand how things work, avoid the pitfalls and overcome their fears and anxieties to ensure society as a whole is able to build a positive future in a digital age.

“We are at an inflection point internationally, and in the UK, we have got no choice post-Brexit but to ensure that we become the most digital, modern and resilient nation that we can.”

Internationally, Lane Fox said there was a lot of focus on powerful companies emerging in the US and specifically Silicon Valley, but she said the world needs to start thinking a lot more about the digital capabilities developing in countries like Russia, China and even Iran.

In the face of the “deep technical capabilities” these countries are developing, she said the rest of the world needs to start working on building a different kind of resilience and capability such as the Syrian Archive project, which is aimed at reconstructing videos of the war in Syria that are free of manipulation from the Russians and others.

“We need to think about how we can build a robust society in the light of the fact that the narratives about shared human experience are being undermined using digital technologies,” said Lane Fox.

“First, we need to educate and upskill our politicians and legislators to ensure that our leaders are fit for the challenges we will face in future and the legislation being created now is going to build security for society in a digital world in the long term,” she said.

Empowerment through technology

Second, Lane Fox said individuals need to feel empowered when it comes to using technology. “Young people tell me that they do care about privacy, that they do want rules around how their data is collected and shared, and that they want to feel empowered,” she said, adding that Doteveryone is working on a “digital health” campaign that will be aimed at helping people to use the internet without compromising their safety and privacy.

And third, Lane Fox said society needs to demand that producers of technology and online services reflect their desires and values.

“We can design for security and privacy, so we must ensure that the corporate world steps up to the mark and does so in future and innovates to solve the biggest challenges we face,” she said.

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