The Decade, Reviewed looks back at the 2010s and how it changed human society forever. From 2010 to 2019, our species experienced seismic shifts in science, technology, entertainment, transportation, and even the very planet we call home. This is how the past 10 years have changed us.
Since 2010, your personal information has been sold on the dark web, stolen by foreign nations (here’s looking at you, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea), used to swing a number of elections (ahem Russia, but also Facebook), and employed as a way to attack nuclear facilities, hospitals and entire electrical grids.
By 2021, cybercrime alone will be a $6 trillion dollar industry, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, which makes it more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs. Your data has become the new currency of criminals, the new weapons of many shadowy silent wars, and the underlying currency of nearly every major technology company.
The commercialization of data is largely responsible for the market conditions that spurred both criminal and foreign manipulation. Seven out of the top 10 technology companies are data companies, meaning they’ve made billions of dollars from selling consumer data. Individuals may be making their data vulnerable by using poor password protection, but companies that amass and commercialize that data are the ones that ultimately bear the primary responsibility for its protection.
In the past decade, poor security practices by companies—across the entire value chain— have resulted in the ability for criminals and nation states to access data. A disregard for customer security created global vulnerability. Experts predict that every company on Earth that uses an internet connection will be hacked in the coming decade, from your dry cleaners, to your hotel chain, to your bank, to your airline. Many of them already have been; airlines alone have seen a 15,000 percent increase in hacks to their systems between 2017 and 2018, according to Netscout‘s research. This is largely because of insecure software by large and small vendors.
Yet in the past decade, a mix of commercial, nonprofit, and government enterprises have used big data to help us understand and visualize increasingly complicated problems. And data has done a huge amount of good. These projects have:
In fact, as technology rapidly advances and our ability to gain, track, and analyze data increases we will have more opportunities than ever to help model, debate and solve problems that may today seem impossible. The problem is that our data is leaky, dirty, and insecure.
The insecurity of our data is contributing to the insecurity of our planet.
If we can’t protect and safeguard our data in the coming decade, we won’t be able to use it to solve great problems. Instead, we’ll continue to see it used as a weapon by those who wish to do us harm.
In the coming decade, we could continue to see our data sold to any high bidder in criminal worlds and commercial worlds. In criminal sectors, this means an increase in identify fraud, banking fraud, listening and monitoring people through IoT devices, and in some extreme cases, the tracking and murder of people who threaten or harm their industries. In commercial worlds, this means an increase in hyper targeted advertising that can be used to sow dissent and divisive messaging and actions (like those used by Russia and the alt-right).
We’ll continue to see our data stolen for economic benefit by China, but as that country continues to increase its hegemonic control, we may also see the rise of a universal database on every person who is connected to the internet. This database could know your face, your social patterns, your shopping patterns, and potentially score you based on your past actions. We’ll also see the fragility of all of our systems as threat actors target our space data, our home-based data and our critical infrastructure.
One day in the future, you could wake up to find out an obscure online group, radicalized through the harvesting of social media data, partnered with a criminal cartel to steal your information, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans. You can no longer pay your bills. Your credit card gets denied. They use the money they’ve created from stealing your information to build a zero-day weapon that they let loose on the internet. It spews hate speech, but also takes out hospitals, trading floors, and streetlights.
While the world is focused on addressing the increasing disorder and violence, another actor decides to hack into our nuclear facilities and attempt to launch a weapon. Someone else sets off a latent dirty bomb in space and our satellites are taken out. This means our cell phones and televisions no longer work, and we have no access to the news. Finally, the electrical grid has been taken down by any number of foreign governments in the name of global security. China goes offline. The world erupts. We’re all left without the economic, political, and financial systems we rely on—casualties in a war we didn’t know was happening.
Or, one day in the future, you could wake up to elected officials who understand the way data underlies our society. They could put in place systems so that companies are required to protect our data as much as possible and foreign actors are punished for engaging in cyberwar. We could see a reduction in criminal activity online and a massive reduction in nation-state conflict. Our data processing, storage, and usage could improve.
Using artificial intelligence and quantum computing, we could build models that help us understand how to respond to climate change with minimal human effort, get more people into space and build better space exploration and habitation vehicles, eradicate massive waste in food supply chains, and reduce the losses in the agriculture industry. We could have a cleaner, healthier, less wasteful planet and see better income distribution, more access to food and clean water, and rising rates of health.
Apathy around the use of our data is apathy to our own humanity. When companies sell our data without paying us, they use us as their financial currency. If we don’t fight back, we’re giving away our own economic value. When nations leverage wars attacking critical infrastructure, businesses, and electoral systems, we’re accepting our fate as casualties in this war—if we don’t demand change. When criminals make more money off our data than they do selling drugs, we’re allowing the exploitation as we’re trafficked.
But we can make great strides in this coming decade. By understanding the power of clean data to solve global problems, we can shift its value. We can see data as a powerful tool to shape the world around us and build a future that improves our world. The potential is there, and we can build the future where human lives come first.