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Professor Mark Skilton from Warwick Business School comments on plans for Facebook message encryption

Facebook has faced pressure from governments to change its plans to encrypt private messages, which potentially hinder security efforts. Professor Mark Skilton from Warwick Business School argues that politicians are now starting to getting to grips with the challenges that data privacy poses.

He said: “The issue of encryption in digital devices is what technology experts describe as a value alignment paradox or dual-use technology issue, in that we need privacy but not where that conflicts with public interest - as seen in the past with Apple versus FBI in the San Bernardino California Terrorist who killed 14 people in December 2015.

“Other issues raised by human rights groups and free speech violations point to misuse of access by dictators or by lesser politicians seeking to find dirt on political opponents. Child safety and the huge problem of child pornography online must be addressed and this issue is at the intersection of what standards of decency and protection society feels are needed in the physical world that must be also in place in the digital online world.

“This is a wicked problem in that we need to be able to have differential privacy but these commercial consumer phones or social media sites are run for profit and, in reality, don’t offer the right kind of encryption security. Even when CEOs like Tim Cook or Mark Zuckerberg claim they are looking at your security and representing customer interests, in fact they too have a double meaning in preserving their market but avoiding siding with governments or other influences.

“My view is this can be fixed with more advanced security measures combined with new governance regulation on the large, often US, companies who own your data and the whole platform end-to-end. New regulation that restructures data privacy as owned by the individual and not those companies, new decentralized ways of storing your data so the ‘bank of your personal data’ becomes the standard method, like we do with our finances. At the moment all your data and tech is with the suppliers, the big cloud platforms, mobile phone makers and network operators. Until new regulation is in place they will not ‘vote’ willingly to change security systems as it means losing control of their monetization models

“It’s a complex issue that has flummoxed politicians to date and been stirred passive-aggressively by lobbying and fence-sitting by the vendors to avoid a solution. But the tide may be turning with Margrethe Vestager’s new powers in Europe and the new American candidates like Elizabeth Warren and the government starting to shake this tree.”

4 October 2019

For interviews contact:

Peter Thorley
Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)


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