Why Blockchain Is a Game-Changer for Privacy: An Interview with Steve Shillingford

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Blockchain is taking the world by storm. I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview Steve Shillingford, Founder and CEO of Anonyome Labs, a consumer privacy software company.

Steve was previously at Oracle and Novell, then was President of Solera Networks before founding Anonyome. Steve speaks and writes extensively on identity management, cybersecurity, privacy, and Big Data.

SOLOVE: You note that many experts are saying that blockchain is “the most important computing invention in a generation.” Why is blockchain such a game-changer?

SHILLINGFORD: For the first time in history, we will have access to a truthful, transparent, and incorruptible platform—controlled by no one, mind you—where any information can be accessed, stored, and shared. It is the ultimate “equalizer” for a world increasingly dominated by faceless corporations and careless governments.

SOLOVE: The Internet has made so many things possible that we couldn’t do in an analog world. Yet, in some ways, the online world seems to lack the capabilities of the offline world. In the offline world, it is much easier to have anonymous transactions. This becomes much more challenging online. How can the online world be made more like the offline world in this regard? 

SHILLINGFORD: Blockchain technology shifts the balance of power back to people—to individuals—and away from tech giants, governments and data miners. It allows you to transact on your terms, just as you do offline. And it’s not just limited to financial transactions. Put anything on the blockchain you want. The blockchain gives a person the ability to publish only the information THEY decide to divulge. Nothing more, nothing less. And no more hidden agendas, no selling personal data without your consent, no worries about privacy. Just like the analogue world, you decide the context, the content, and duration of the information you provide…not the big guys. It can really be that easy.

In the real world, each of us has a reasonable amount of control over our personal safety. You might choose, for example, not to walk down dark alleys at night.

But online, you can’t even see the dark alleys.

The blockchain shines a light on all of that. An open book that by design lends itself to visibility, authenticity, control and safety at the individual level.

SOLOVE: Why should we want a world infused with blockchain technology? 

SHILLINGFORD: Because it will solve one of the greatest problems we’re facing: The lack of trust—in people, companies, and governments. Fake news and the endless exploitation of our personal information isn’t helping. In fact, it’s created a world where, on the one hand “everything is amazing” and on the other, we’re all miserable and looking for comfort in familiar corners. Instead of finding common ground, solving big problems, we’re organized as tribes and that segmentation has made it easier for the digital despots to control us, but it’s made us feel unsafe and anxious. This is the perfect example of how our digital world does not square with our analogue experience.

How we are naturally with each other, in person, simply isn’t permitted in the online space. The over-sharing and over-exposure has left us feeling vulnerable, confused, conscious on some levels, subconscious on others. And that loss of control has left us searching… for meaning, substance, and security in an unsafe world.

In the digital world, regardless of the site or context, we are compelled to have a single, permanent identity, with digital tattoos used to track us forever: email, phone number, username—all these tattoos tell the digital world all about us. Worse still, those bits of digital exhaust are shared with and without our consent with faceless companies to do unknown things. Things that make tracking, profiling, and manipulating easier for those platforms and governments—ours or any other—in order to grow and scale their influence and power.

Across the world, we seeing examples of people taking control and ownership of the things that matter most to them in their digital world—all without asking for permission, acceptance of their terms of service, or requiring a “right to be forgotten.” It’s a movement where the number one goal is cutting out the intermediaries, the central authorities, and the gatekeepers.

Blockchain is the engine driving this movement. It’s controlled by no one person or party. It’s going to impact everything we do. And, save an EMP, it’s unstoppable.

Businessman in blockchain cryptocurrency concept

SOLOVE: Are there any concerns or challenges that blockchain poses? 

SHILLINGFORD: My only concern is governments trying to abort the technology or neuter its power, given the potential it poses for disruption. I take great comfort in the peer-to-peer design being able to buffer these attempts.

SOLOVE:  Using your crystal ball, what do you predict for the future of blockchain? What kind of societal impact do you see it having in the future? 

SHILLINGFORD: Monopolies (technology, insurance, financial to name a few) will fall, faster than we ever imagined. Some governments might actually topple, but all will have their grip on the control and freedom of their citizenry loosened.

As people are empowered to live online as they do in the analogue world—that is, safely, privately, and in complete control of their identity and the way the interact with others—various societal stressors will be alleviated. Personal privacy will be upheld as a fundamental human right and, as a result, open, intelligent and meaningful discourse will also be protected. Blockchain technology paves the way toward a safer, more authentic, and connected future.

SOLOVE: Thanks, Steve, for speaking with me about blockchain. If you’re interested in more of Steve’s thoughts about blockchain, please see his article about blockchain and consumer privacy. Steve will be speaking at the Privacy+Security Forum on October 4, 2018.

* * * *

This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy and data security training. He also posts at his blog at LinkedIn, which has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum (Oct. 3-5, 2018 in Washington, DC), an annual event designed for seasoned professionals. 

This post was originally posted on LinkedIn.

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The Privacy+Security Forum (Oct 3-5, 2018 in DC)


GDPR and Privacy Awareness Training by Professor Daniel Solove

 

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