In 2020 our attention has been consumed by the General Election and Covid-19. With the election behind us, the pandemic remains part of our reality. Even after a vaccine, the threat of its return or a new virus will mean permanent changes. Here are FIVE WAYS your privacy and identity will be under threat because of this.
- Unemployment will skyrocket as Covid-19 continues to have a permanent and potentially devastating impact on many industries regardless of how strongly or quickly the overall economy rebounds. The airline, hospitality, convention, restaurant, cosmetology, movie theaters, funeral, fitness and many other industries will be permanently changed by this pandemic. Workers will be displaced and many of those jobs, like industrial age manufacturing jobs, will never come back. Consumer habits will change, technology will replace workers, social norms will evolve and consumer fear will ebb and flow with future threats.
- Scammers will Prey on The Vulnerable and take advantage of fear. Social engineering means manipulating people – often verbally but sometimes via other means like phishing emails – to make decisions that they otherwise might not. Think of the person who is talked into giving their checking account information to the “bank manager” who calls about the problem depositing this month’s social security check, or the phishing email that convinces you to click on the link and log into your (fake!) account that steals your credentials.
These criminals use fear and urgency to convince consumers to make hasty decisions that they would not make if they had the chance to sit back and consider them more carefully or talk them through with a trusted friend or family. Scammers will have plenty of consumers who are afraid of losing their job or government benefits or simply afraid of Covid-19. In the Spring it might have been someone afraid of missing out on that last package of toilet paper being held for them at the warehouse store. We know that criminals are endlessly creative and fear can make us all foolish.
- Masks and Gloves will become common for in-person transactions. This will allow people to avoid detection without raising suspicion. In cities like London, England or New York City, and countries like China, facial recognition technology has been widespread for years and privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm. They have rightly pointed out that facial recognition combined with social media which tells the world who we interact with, geolocation tech on our mobile devices which constantly tracks our time and location, web browsers tracking our interests and habits and our own willingness to trade away our personal information creates a powerful way for companies and authorities to not only know what we are doing but predict it also.
Some consumers are going to bristle at this intrusion by wearing masks which previously would have been regarded as disguises and possibly illegal but now this same behavior will be dismissed as a safety precaution. By hiding their identities for health reasons, they will be taking the first and most important of several steps to avoid detection and tracking. Criminals too will realize that they can make purchases or conduct transactions in-person using stolen identities that previously would have been impossible. They no longer have to reveal that their face, have it match a photo ID on risk having their own face or fingerprints recorded by cameras. It’s a big win for criminals and bad for the rest of us
- Contactless Delivery has already become an offering of every retailer. While it’s the norm for food and convenience deliveries, it’s now being offered from everything who doesn’t want to risk losing a sale to consumers weary of Covid-19. Cars, homes, anything can now be purchased sight unseen and buyer unseen. Very similar to the Masks and Gloves threat above, Contactless Delivery breaks eliminates one of the major dangers for identity thieves – the risk of getting caught when committing a fraud in person. Combined with the ability to sign documents electronically, this allows a criminal to leave no physical or personal trace when making an otherwise physical purchase. This is the dream of the identity thief which couldn’t have been imagined just a year ago.
- Contact Tracing will become a strategy of all governments to deal with future pandemics. The difference between the performance of the United States and other countries with far fewer deaths is due to many factors beyond the scope of this essay but one of the factors in slowing the spread of Covid-19 in the most successful countries has been sophisticated contact tracing. That doesn’t mean complex or expensive. Since we all carry mobile devices with geolocating capabilities as referenced in point #3 above, it is easy to track the movements and interaction of people.
That leaves testing as the outstanding issue. If people can be tested quickly, inexpensively and accurately, they already carry the means of transmitting the history of who they have been in contact with to health authorities. If medical experts determine that you are ill, they can conceivably determine where and with whom you were with and also contact them within minutes. And then contact their contacts, and so on, and so on… Depending on the nature of the pandemic, this could be a revolutionary weapon to fight diseases like Covid-19 but it will depend on having a government willing to invest in the technology and a population willing to accept surrender the privacy necessary to enable it to work.
There will certainly be more changes coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic but these five are almost certain.
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