In Ms. Meeker’s time-honored annual tome of macro statistics and themes getting “re-imagined” online privacy has, for the first time, deserved some attention. After illustrating the global slowdown in new smartphone purchases and Internet users, Ms. Meeker dedicates a slide to “Growth of Ad Blockers” (and a handful more talking about what kinds of advertising are working) and, finally, by page #207, she talks about the data privacy debate, listing events like Snowden and the Apple / US DOJ encryption battle. The next several slides detail survey results about consumer privacy concerns and end with a suggestively rhetorical question: “Do people care about privacy or do they care about WHO has their data?”
[Full copy of the report here: http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends]
It seems clear to Ms. Meeker and her analysts that data about consumers is growing and the cost of its storage declining. It is also clear that despite all the venture-backed ad-tech companies waiting for bankers to take them out for their IPO dance, consumers are increasingly taking action to block ads, especially on mobile.
For venture investors and bankers, however, there is nothing to be done about online privacy except handle it as one of so many investor objections. This is true for two reasons: first, for a long time macro data has not proven consumers care yet about privacy (more likely the opposite) and, secondly, even when a growth trend emerges like ad-blockers, these are neither profitable nor interesting businesses for investors.
Security, of course, is profitable and IPO-able. So rather than posit consumers should control their own data (as people have historically done by default) better to focus on who owns the data and how much they will spend to protect data from the growing storm of data breaches, which as the report acknowledges, now number in the billions of individual records.
The race to 2020 will be a defining period for online privacy as the growth of AI, cameras, facial recognition, self-driving cars, iOT, and other big data trends battle against stronger user device encryption, ad-blocking / ad-tech bubble-bursting, varied global regulation, and other attempts to establish new societal equilibriums around reasonable expectations of online privacy. Over the next 5 years, finally, Online Privacy will defy big businesses presumptions of easy profitable big data and become a consumer force to be truly reckoned with.
If technical progress surges forward as fast as the technocrats predict, (which I remain skeptical of) online privacy will be THE crucial issue affecting our society and inciting dramatic changes to individual norms and behaviors. As this happens, if nothing else, Mary Meekers 2017-2020 reports will provide more privacy coverage, but it is unlikely they will have much “privacy re-imagining” to offer.
Rob Shavell is a co-founder of online privacy company Abine which offers Blur- the only password manager and digital wallet that protects passwords, payments and privacy as well as DeleteMe which removes personal data from dozens of publicly searchable data brokers. Abine’s solutions have been trusted by over 25 million people worldwide. Get Blur.
This blog post was written by Rob Shavell, CEO and co-founder of Abine, Inc.