Davos WEF
Davos WEF

Governments are about to get thirstier for your data


Some of the biggest names in the industry have signaled that web privacy is set to get a lot tougher as governments pile pressure on internet providers for access to information.

Marissa Mayer, the current president and CEO of Yahoo, described it as a "pendulum swing" at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"I see a pendulum swinging back and forth in public sentiment, where you saw (U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden) swing that pendulum very heavily towards privacy. Now with some of the recent issues that have arisen, that pendulum has swung back towards security," she said during a seminar at the event.

Following on from this month's terrorist attacks, the U.K. government has implied that intelligence agencies should be given greater powers to break encrypted communications to nullify the threat of terrorism.

The discussions on Thursday revolved around where governmental control should be granted and how it extends to countries that want access to hit back at dissenting voices. Yahoo demand that government data requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes. It received 6,791 data requests from the U.S. government in the first six months of 2014 and has seen numbers fall but Mayer's words suggested that a change is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Michael Fries, the president, CEO, and vice chairman of Liberty Global said that internet privacy today was resembling a "train wreck." He said that government access was not optional or voluntary, but obligatory.

"We do have lawful intercept relationships with the governments in every (country) in which we operate," he said. He added that Liberty Global had, however, the obligation to give some sense of proportionality to the data requests.

Martin Moxter | Getty Images

"We can protect our consumers, but in the end there's a disconnect between data privacy and this issue of lawful intercept and data retention for the purposes of government," he said.

The seminar also included Marc Beinhoff, the founder, chairman and CEO of cloud company salesforce.com; Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World-Wide Web; and Gunther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society. The group raised the idea that governments should not be allowed to regulate data privacy as its the governments that are wanting to access the data. Berners-Lee put forward the idea that government requests should be more accountable and overseen by a separate body.

The seminar also discussed data breaches at high-profile firms and how companies are cashing in by selling your details to third-parties. The last two years has seen a series of data breaches in various sectors. U.S. retailer Target had 40 million credit and debit cards compromised. There has also been the damaging disclosures by former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden. Tech giant Apple hasn't been immune from the issue, with the California-based firm investigating a high-profile leak into several of its iCloud accounts in early September.

Oettinger said that the EU was currently involved in regulation that would form a public-private partnership but Fries argued that market-based regulation could take several years to implement and be considered sufficient.

Mayer and Berners-Lee also spoke of the idea of a "beneficent" marketplace, where companies would survive by how well they used customer data and how happy their users were with their level of security.

Beinhoff of salesforce.com called for "complete and total transparency", meaning there would be no secrets.

"Only through radical transparency are we going to get new radical levels of trust, which is where we have to get to, to make this new world really work," he said.