Still, he notes, privacy is going mainstream. Products like DoNotTrackMe are being bundled with security suites from companies like Avira and Checkpoint. Enhanced privacy is becoming the default setting in popular browsers like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple's Safari -- though not without a lot of pushback from the online advertising industry.
"Privacy today is similar to how security was in the late 1990s," Sudbury says. "In the old days setting up a firewall was pretty complicated. Then Zone Alarm came along. Now every user running a Windows machine has a firewall built in. I honestly believe that in five years we'll have more control over our personal information than we do today."
The personal data economy: Putting consumers in control of their privacyWhile dozens of small startups struggle to build a business out of privacy, big data collectors are discovering that it pays to offer consumers more control over how their information is used.
Within five to seven years, most consumers will be able to manage their own data, predicts Fatemeh Khatibloo, senior analyst at Forrester Research. They'll be able to log into their accounts, determine what information they're willing to share, who gets to see it, and what they'll get in return for it.
Khatibloo says data collectors and large enterprises will embrace PIDM (personal identity management) for a simple reason: It will save them money. Data breaches have cost companies such as Sony and Epsilon hundreds of millions of dollars. Companies are spending astronomical amounts of money gathering and storing data they don't know what to do with, don't really need, and struggle to keep secure, she says.
Customers in turn will embrace PIDM because it offers them control over their data and something of value in return -- such as targeted offers, free services, and freedom from having to provide the same personal information to dozens of sites.
In this scheme, consumers would store sensitive information in cloud-based data lockers; third parties would only be able to access information needed to offer a service or perform a transaction. The data-locker provider would be responsible for ensuring security; consumers would theoretically be more willing to share more information; and companies would get more accurate data without the liability, says Khatibloo.
The PIDM economy is already under way with companies like Enliken, which offers Web publishers the ability to negotiate with visitors by offering deals in exchange for their data, and OneID, which enables users to verify their identities online without necessarily revealing any personal information.