AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Online Data Safety in 2019
Over the past few decades, artificial intelligence has evolved from a science-fiction cliche to an essential component of everyday technology.
We’ve come a long way from Alan Turing’s invention of the Bombe machine, which was used to intercept and decipher coded messages from German forces during World War II. Then came John McCarthy, who coined the term “artificial intelligence” in the 1950s, prompting research centers across the USA to explore the potential of this.
More than half a century later, we’re firmly entrenched in the age of machine learning, thanks largely to the growth of AI.
This technology imitates human intelligence, enabling machines to contemplate, judge, and reach their own decisions. Until recently, that required a level of expertise only humans were capable of.
While you might know a bit about AI, you’re probably not aware of just how pervasive it has become in our everyday lives. In 2019, many businesses not only integrate AI into their end products; they also use it to amass valuable data.
Contents of This Guide
AI’s Role in Data Gathering and Analysis
The digital world is over-saturated with data. Sorting through it manually would take far too much time and effort, and wouldn’t yield valuable enough results to be worthwhile. AI, on the other hand, can gather and analyze this data rapidly and effectively.
For many businesses, this technology has become indispensable. Many companies use it to know their customers better and give them a great user experience online. AI can predict what customers want to do next based on historical data showing their past behavior, as well as their location and timezone.
Indeed, AI has changed the online shopping experience dramatically. Now, users who log in to their Amazon accounts are greeted with tailored product recommendations based on their preferences and previous searches. This personalized experience can help customers feel a much deeper connection with the brand. Emotionally connected users are much more likely to convert into paying customers.
This exhaustive collection and analysis of data applies to social media and gaming, too. Marketers can use these platforms to target users with ads that are relevant to them.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it were magic. But there’s nothing supernatural behind this; simply terabytes upon terabytes of your data. Every click counts.
Applications of AI
You may not associate advertising with AI, but this technology can gather a goldmine of invaluable marketing data. AI tracks and analyzes customer behavior by recording data, which it can then use to generate customized ads and product recommendations. Even Salesforce, one of the world’s largest marketing companies, uses AI to run effective lead-generation campaigns.
This data doesn’t just help create automated campaigns. Marketers can also use these insights to improve user experience in fields like customer service.
Next time you visit a website with a live chat function, take a closer look. Chances are this chat box is powered by AI, not a real person. When it asks whether you’d like help, throw a few questions at it. You’ll be amazed at how smooth and lifelike this technology has become. Why would a business pay real humans to answer questions and provide support when a bot can do it efficiently (and free of charge) around the clock?
AI has applications across a wide variety of other industries, including finance, healthcare, criminal justice, and even national security. If data is the gold of the 21st century, AI is the most efficient mining system we’ve ever seen.
AI and Security Issues
While AI has seemingly limitless potential, we can’t gloss over its pitfalls. The most sensitive of these is data security. With the sheer quantity of data AI gathers, the omnipresent risk of malicious exploitation looms large.
1. Enormous Data Gathering
Have you ever searched for something on Google only to be bombarded with ads for that product or service on Facebook just minutes later?
There’s no doubt that the way these ads seem to read your mind and follow you across platforms is creepy. That’s because the AI algorithm behind these auto-generated ads is as good as a mind-reader. A marketer armed with AI technology knows you better than you know yourself.
2. Overlooked Data Privacy
Of course, different AI algorithms collect different data. Most begin with your basic personal information, including your age, gender, and location. But more sophisticated systems can track your shopping patterns and spending behavior and the type of products people shop online. In some parts of the world that aren’t protected by the GDPR, third-party operators can buy your data without you ever knowing about it.
Social media platforms are among the most advanced in this field. It’s easy for sites to update their terms and conditions to loosen privacy settings, thereby leaving users’ information exposed.
More often than not, consumers have no idea that this has happened. And if they do, it’s not always clear how sensitive their data is and why people would want to buy (or steal) it.
3. Invading and Abusing Personal Privacy
Of course, it’s not just marketers who can use this data for their own gain. AI can also help government agencies identify, profile, and locate people, with or without their permission. History tells us that giving governments unfettered access to control over their citizens’ private lives doesn’t end well.
For all these reasons, concerns about AI’s impact upon privacy are valid. Many people believe users should have control who collects, modifies, stores, and exchanges their information. At the very least, we should know who is using our private data, and why.
AI and Hacking
Smart technology gets smarter. Machine learning accelerates. Artificial intelligence becomes less artificial and more intelligent. And suddenly, the world’s cybercriminals have tools more powerful than ever before at their disposal.
Hacking has never been a greater threat than it is right now. AI-powered malware can infect your connected devices with untraceable applications that are almost impossible to remove. The damage can be irreparable.
IBM highlighted this danger with a security experiment at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas in 2018. The experiment showed how hackers can develop AI programs that can evade even the best defenses, staying dormant and difficult to detect until they actually reach their target.
Expert hackers can also us AI in smart phishing, a scam in which they trick unsuspecting victims into handing over sensitive information. They often sell the data they gain via the dark web to even shadier operators. This information can include users’ shopping history, subscriptions, and even sensitive banking details.
Once a hacker has this information, you’re at their mercy. From this point, they can coax out more critical data like credit card numbers and login details.
How Can We Protect Our Data?
Thankfully, governments are starting to realize the importance of data protection. Leading the charge is the European Union, which in 2018 implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It gives users more control than ever over their data and makes it virtually impossible for companies to engage in the shady data-collection practices of the past. The measures in the GDPR are comprehensive and the fines for companies that breach it are enormous: up to $20 million.
Recently, the California Consumer Privacy Act was passed into legislation, providing similar protections to those of the GDPR. The law returns data to users’ hands and gives them the power to choose who collects, shares, and buys their personal information.
Of course, you can’t just rely on the government to protect you. It’s also worth reading the privacy agreement of every online platform you sign up to, so you don’t get stung later. Employing other internet security measures, such as a VPN and a firewall, can also make a big difference.
However, to comprehensively secure website and your data, a one-stop solution like Astra Security Suite is your best bet. With its rock-solid firewall and protection against spam and bad bots, it can detect and automatically block hackers before they do any damage. Further, Astra also facilitates a GDPR consent tool for the web owners to make their websites GDPR compliant.
The constant evolution of AI is keeping everyone on their toes. With such rapid advances, we can expect the technology to continue spreading at unprecedented rates.
Experts predict that worldwide GDP will grow up to 14% by 2030 thanks to AI. This means an additional $15.7 trillion for the global economy. It’s no wonder, then, that the AI, big data, and analytics sector is the fourth fastest-growing among tech start-ups, with a growth rate of 77.5%.
While AI’s potential seems limitless, there are still some important issues to resolve. Aside from concerns about robots making manual labor jobs redundant, the risk of major data breaches is a huge cause for concern. We need to take every precaution to protect our data in the age of AI. But it seems that even these fears won’t be enough to stop this technology changing our planet for good.
What are your thoughts on AI? Feel free to share it with us in the comments.
Disclaimer: Facts and opinions expressed in this article are of the Guest Author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Astra.