As the democratic and republican debates continue to bring up encryption of data and candidates flex their theoretical cyber muscles, digital privacy is at the forefront of the discussion. It's become such a hot issue that the FBI is worried about how privacy may harm the country, with potential dangers to the nation hurting our law enforcement's ability to keep us safe. Companies have made a great deal of money off of your personal information, using targeted advertising and at times making it quite difficult to retain and store your information. Worse still, the PRISM surveillance program showed many people were keeping their data with giant companies that didn't protect them.

Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower on the government's mass-surveillance of consumer data, highlighted this fear when (after mass media alarm) he told the government to ignore ISIS' supposed (and fake) "encryption" protocol. While these are large-scale issues, they affect every day consumers; we are spread everywhere over the internet, and both the government and companies are continuing to keep data in a way that doesn't help the average person. This has become a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to clean up the multitude of data silos and network trails we have left over the years.

While both Facebook and Twitter download archives of your data, they are stored and organized in a fundamentally consumer unfriendly way. That's where Shryne, a web and iOS-based app, grew from. The app allows users to download, privately store (in Dublin, Ireland) and analyze their data based on the relationship to the person. Their support for Facebook, including photos and messages, Google Hangouts, Emails and other popular digital communication companies is organized to free the companies' hold on their data. In a conversation with Forbes, founder Aldo Cherdabayev also criticized the disparate networks (full of our personal information) and how it ruins our control and freedom over our information. "When we decided to purge, to switch providers, or make space on our machines, there wasn't a framework for creating persistent storage for all of this [data]," he said.

The app Telegram has also come under scrutiny for encrypted messaging, creating a secure network for potential terrorist networks. Their "secret chats" function, which the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation considers one of the most secure in the world, is one of the more obvious ways that criminals could communicate without government interference. This has led both the tech press to criticize the approach, such as TechRepublic's Dan Patterson, who has called encryption a fundamental human right. Entrepreneurs have stepped in too, such as David Gorodyansky, founder of AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield. He told ZDNet specifically that "security and privacy are basic human rights for really every person on the planet." The app has been downloaded over 400 million times, and provides a security encrypted channel for anything over your internet connection, a well as creating a different Internet Protocol address, showing you're in a different location to anyone looking for your location.

This is the next consumer freedom that companies are worried about; content and profit. Netflix, the most popular streaming network in the world, has recently declared they will clamp down on VPNs like AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield, which The Verge said would create would-be pirates. For reasons not entirely clear, potentially due to licensing agreements, Netflix is willing to block paying customers who are traveling or wish to access the larger catalogues. This doesn't just apply to the US, either. In other countries (as Hotspot Shield has listed) Netflix provides content you can't access in America. The result is that companies like AnchorFree are selling back the basic right to use things you've already paid for.

The government's intention is to keep us safe, but the worry over encryption both in for-profit and national safety has led to many consumers suffering the consequences of potential loss of their freedom and access. The result may be that startups, as they have stepped in to change the way that we work (WeWork), travel (Uber) or even get health insurance (Oscar), have to find a way to protect our civil liberties.

Published on: Feb 2, 2016
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