Q: You see yourself at the “vanguard of a benevolent Internet”– and your tireless work against the grain (and Google’s data hegemony) proves your intent. Recent revelations have made this a watershed moment for privacy: will we get to a point where even those who can’t afford Reputation.com services will benefit from new, intrinsic privacy protections that your work will foster?
A: We’re standing on the precipice of privacy’s “Michelangelo moment.” If you cast your mind back to 1991, that was the time when the world collectively awoke to the threat of computer viruses, heralded – of course – by the Michelangelo virus. It wasn’t just businesses that comprehended the risk; as individuals, we understood ourselves to be vulnerable, too. Today, that same mass awareness of the perils of privacy online is dawning, thanks to Snowden, PRISM, massive data invasions by foreign governments or hackers who attack companies, etc.
As technology like ours becomes more pervasive, and as corporations and governments shift policies because of large-scale cyber security risks, I predict Global 2000 corporations will effectively subsidize data protection technologies for everyone, much in the same way they did during the virus scare of the early 1990s. Think about it: that’s how antivirus, encryption and identity theft technologies became available to the average consumer – those protective technologies became embedded in the infrastructure of the transactional Internet. In the same way, tools to protect people’s digital DNA will eventually become ubiquitous, and some of those tools will be effectively subsidized by a combination of corporate governance and activity as well as national policymaking. There’s a palpable feeling of inevitability; this is going to happen.
—Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, the world’s pioneer and leading provider of patented online privacy and reputation management services. Fertik is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet and has received numerous awards, including TechAmerica’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012.