Recently it was revealed that a number of iPhone apps using analytics from software company Glassbox Digital embedded a ‘session replay’ feature that essentially recorded the screens of users while they used the app – capturing sensitive data including credit card details and passwords along the way. The companies using the technology were not obscure or small-scale either – including apps from industry heavyweights such as Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Expedia, Hotels.com and many more. Although in this case access to a customer’s sensitive information was retained somewhat unintentionally, it once again highlighted the vulnerability for consumers that is inherent and always present when we regularly entrust our most sensitive and private information to major corporations. Although we are not even 50 days into the new year, there have already been a number of major news stories that have once again brought the issues of privacy and data security back into the public consciousness. In January this year, it came to light that Facebook had exploited a loophole in Apple’s enterprise software platform (normally restricted for internal company use only) to distribute a ‘research’ app outside of Facebook that was used to (among other things) track teenage users. And just a week ago, a critical flaw in Apple’s FaceTime software for iOS devices was exposed that allowed a user’s microphone to be turned on without their knowledge or permission before answering or declining a FaceTime group chat call. While much has already been written about the increasing number of major data breaches that have occurred in the last few years, what has become painfully obvious recently is that while we do face serious threats to our privacy from our information getting into the wrong hands, we are also becoming more and more vulnerable thanks to the sheer amount of data that we willingly hand over on a daily basis to companies we trust implicitly. As our phones and other mobile devices take on a more central role in our daily existence, we are also willingly (and perhaps unwittingly) generating an ever-increasing amount of data that can serve to paint a picture of our lives in the most intimate and excruciating detail. The fact is though, when we do not think about it too much, most of us are actually pretty happy with giving away this level of information when we get a better user experience or greater level of convenience in exchange. After all, using your face or your fingerprint to access all of your apps is so much easier than typing in one of the half-dozen passwords you use, and it saves a few valuable seconds when directions to the restaurant you have booked show up automatically in your maps apps, thanks to the confirmation email sent to your inbox a few days ago. While the level of data collection by analytics companies like Glassbox has been steadily on the rise – thanks predominately to significant advances in technology and the increased collection of big data sets – there are promising signs that 2019 might be the year that governments around the world start to become more proactive in clamping down on companies that overstep the mark. Last week, the competition regulator in Germany ordered Facebook to reduce the amount of data it collects without explicitly seeking consent from users. And overnight, news broke that the social media giant was also in negotiations with the US Federal Trade Commission on what could ultimately be a multibillion-dollar fine for the company in response to its numerous privacy breaches. We do not have to look very far to catch a glimpse of where this technology ultimately might be leading us. Recently in parts of China, the government has been experimenting with rolling out its ‘social credit’ scoring system, which automatically sucks up and accumulates masses of user data including a person’s credit score, purchase records, social media posts, location information and much more to give the person a rating that ultimately determines what they can do with their lives. This includes whether they can obtain finance for a house, how visible they will be to others on dating sites, and even whether they can buy a plane ticket just to leave the very place they live. Particularly worrying about the current situation in China is that by simply mandating the aggregation and centralisation of the mountains of data already generated on a daily basis by citizens going about their private lives, the government has created the ability to mould and shape society to its will, should it wish to do so. And while China is far more aggressive than many other countries in its quest for data dominance, the fact that far-reaching laws allowing governments across the world to access data from personal phones and devices are increasingly being passed without any real opposition is cause for just a little bit of concern. Irrespective of the differences between China and western countries in relation to their approaches to state-sanctioned data collection, it is undeniable that we all live in a world where an increasing amount of our sensitive information is being captured, analysed and used to influence the experiences that we have in our day-to-day lives. And while the last few years have shown us the importance of being vigilant in who we choose to give our sensitive information to, there is a real possibility that in the future we may be stripped of our ability to make that choice at all. Although it’s somewhat poignant that I’m re-reading 1984 by George Orwell at the moment — looking at some of the privacy-related stories in the news right now actually makes for a more confronting affair. Jonas Lipsius is an Australian lawyer currently living in Switzerland, who has interests in management, tech, privacy and legal issues.