Worried about privacy in the digital age, especially as it pertains to things like the IoT and AI? You’re not alone, nor are those worries unfounded. Digital privacy represents a major concern as the world rushes towards an ever more digital reality. From smart devices tracking your every move to a lack of transparency about what’s collected, how, where, or when, there are many concerns about privacy and data security to solve moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at what privacy in the digital age will look like, and how 6G aims to solve some of the biggest problems.

Concerns About Privacy in the Digital Age

We’re currently living in a world where our smartphones know more about us than our closest friends, and that’s not going to change. We rely on our devices for a range of everyday activities, making it no surprise that our data has become more valuable than oil.

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans feel confused about data privacy and like they lack control over their personal information. A full 81 percent believe it’s impossible to control what data is collected about them, and 63 percent believe that the government regularly tracks them through data collection.

These are worrying trends as the rollout of 5G gets underway, promising smarter devices as our constant companions. One survey by Accenture noted that businesses consider privacy as the biggest concern with implementing 5G in their office. Why? A few reasons exist:

  • More devices mean more opportunities to hack a network. Gartner predicts that some 11.3 million IoT endpoints will exist by 2021 and 43 million by 2023, something in which hackers have already shown an interest. Network administrators will struggle with device visibility, as internet-connected devices may not register on networks.
  • More sophisticated devices mean more sophisticated settings. IoT devices are notoriously vulnerable. Norton notes that smart home devices, especially, are often not hardened or incorrectly configured.
  • Faster speeds make compromised devices harder to spot. Is that smart TV collecting data from the latest meeting? Often, the only sign that malware is present involves a slower device. 
  • Confusion as to what data should and should not be collected. While some governments and bodies have taken steps to create more robust data privacy laws, their implementation is far from universal. With smart devices constantly collecting information about their surroundings, it’s getting harder to identify what information a device needs to collect and what it shouldn’t.
  • Location privacy doesn’t exist with 5G. Many of 5G’s new abilities rely on improved data location features. That means the network knows where you are – and probably what you’re doing – all the time.
  • There hasn’t been a lot of emphasis on privacy and security in 5G research. That may sound surprising, but the majority of research and development in 5G focused on the Internet of Things, particularly its capabilities and how to implement it.

What Will Digital Privacy Look Like in 6G?

Current research estimates that the average 6G system will have simultaneous connectivity that is up to 1,000 times greater than anything we’ll see with 5G. With the alarms sounding about how little emphasis went into privacy and security with 5G, we can be sure that the same mistake won’t happen with 6G.

So far, it looks like we’re right. A significant body of emerging research is focusing on solving the issue of digital privacy in 6G. While it’s too early to know what concrete forms it will take, we do know:

Security and Data Privacy in 6G Will Likely Involve Blockchain

When utilized correctly, blockchain is an incredibly secure and robust technology. It may also be the key to solving data security and privacy in 6G.

Blockchains are a type of distributed ledger that forms a database accessible to any note or computing device on the network. Each device performs the same calculations and, when all devices agree on the value, it’s added to the blockchain.

Blockchain is popular amongst 6G researchers because it’s scalable, reliable, works with the IoT, and doesn’t require a centralized server or manager. For the ultra-massive, ultra-dense networks that 6G assumes, those are major advantages.

There Will Also Be a Renewed Emphasis on Trust Environments

In cybersecurity, zero trust is considered a best practice for networks. In this philosophy, all users are required to identify and authenticate themselves before accessing the network. That’s great for small private networks but the resources required to manage zero trust make it unwieldy for large wireless networks like those 6G will host.

In contrast to this approach, many researchers suggest that embedded trust may prove more efficient and effective for massive 6G networks. With embedded trust, security is grounded at the device-level.  This is done by adding a layer of end-to-end connectivity on top of a forwarding protocol. In other words, both the device connecting to the 6G network and the network from which the device is connecting must be trusted to receive a connection to the 6G network. To gain that trust, the 6G network will require reliable data regarding the device’s behavior on other networks, like social proof.

Embedded trust is gaining popularity because it plays nicely with blockchain though details haven’t fully emerged. We’re keeping an eye on it, however, as it attempts to address the big questions around advanced connectivity and data privacy.

Get the Latest in 6G Research & Development

When it comes to privacy in the digital age, 6G researchers have their work cut out for them. Data privacy and protection will require a different approach with the ultra-advanced networks of the future. Fortunately, the need to rethink network configuration completely offers a chance to lay the foundations for a new paradigm of privacy. Whether blockchain, embedded trust, or another mechanism entirely, 6G will certainly mean a new way to think about and secure our data.

What else will 6G impact in our world? That’s what we’re exploring. Check out our blog to get up to speed on the latest topics.

privacy in the digital age