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Looking back on 2021: Priv8’s top ten episodes of the year

Looking back on 2021: Priv8’s top ten episodes of the year

Dec 13, 2021

2021 has been an important year for digital privacy. Controversial policy changes, divisive political situations, and technological advances have rung in a new age of challenges and opportunities—and conversations about digital privacy and human rights have never been more crucial.

Throughout the year, the Priv8 Podcast, hosted by Orchid's Derek Silva, has supported the digital privacy movement through conversations with experts and thought leaders from across the privacy sphere. The podcast has also helped to continue the momentum of Orchid's two Priv8 Virtual Privacy Summits, which took place in March and November.

To mark the end of a memorable year for digital privacy, the Orchid team has selected some of the Priv8 Podcast's best moments. Here are the top ten conversations of 2021.

#1: NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

Privacy activist Edward Snowden headlined the first-ever Priv8 Virtual Privacy Summit in March. He spoke with Electronic Frontier Foundation Director Cindy Cohn and Orchid CEO Dr. Steven Waterhouse (Seven) about how the Internet's current problems reflect greater societal issues.

"When I was younger, the Internet was an expression of the aggregate of individual desires of small communities," he said. "There weren't a lot of commercial interests in the earliest expressions of the Internet." But over time, he "saw the replacement of a creative and cooperative network with something that was commercial and competitive—a system that is fundamentally unfair."

Listen to Edward Snowden's full talk at Priv8 here.

#2: Author and Journalist Glenn Greenwald

The November edition of the Priv8 Virtual Privacy Summit featured best-selling author and constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald.

"Free speech is the primary tool to combat the excesses of tyrannical power," Glenn said during his keynote speech. But while defending free speech is critical to our future, it isn't always easy. "As a lawyer, I worked on a lot of free speech cases—including controversial ones.

"People who have very unpopular views tend to be targeted by censorship. So if you want to defend free speech, you end up defending people with unpopular views."

Listen to Glenn's full keynote presentation here.

#3: Privacy Advocate Dr. Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna

Dr. Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, the Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a privacy-focused think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., appeared on the Priv8 Podcast in August. She spoke about digital disruption of human rights, how the culture of surveillance dictates daily life, and new privacy laws from around the world.

"It's incredible how many things are happening in all directions. It's as though the world came to understand the impact that data, automated data-based decision making, and other new technologies can have on individuals and their communities."

For example, China is preparing to "adopt its own version of GDPR called the 'Personal Information Protection Law,' or PIPL." The new law "will be applicable to all [entities in] the private sector, and if the current draft of the law passes, some of it will be applicable to the public sector as well."

Listen to the full interview with Gabriela here.

#4: Sonny King, Executive Technology Director of frog design

frog design's Sonny King appeared on Priv8 in September, when he spoke about the best practices for achieving 'privacy by design' and the importance of building a more sustainable future.

"When we think about our society's future, we're going to continue to embrace new technology. There are opportunities for us to think about how we use technology to optimize the environment around us. Part of that is giving ourselves the sense of 'environment' in virtual spaces that physical space used to give us."

But in order to make these virtual environments secure, privacy must be built-in from the beginning—a concept called "privacy by design." Sonny said, "One of the components of 'privacy by design' is context versus data awareness. You can create a context that is valuable to a user without needing to know anything about the user. You might need to know something about their presence—meaning, the fact that there is a user.

Listen to Sonny's full conversation with Derek here.

#5: Internews's Berhan Taye

Berhan Taye is a senior advisor at Internews, a nonprofit supporting independent media in 100 countries. She appeared on Priv8 in August, when she spoke on the rise of digital authoritarianism, the fight against misinformation, and the impact of Internet shutdowns on countries.

"In places where the government has controlled the narrative in traditional news media for so many years, these narratives are now also going around on social media," Berhan said. This issue is especially prevalent in places where "trust has been broken, journalists have been killed and arrested, and human rights have been violated" repeatedly over many decades.

"So how do you tell people what's right or wrong—what's true or false? A lot of the conversations that I have with my own family and other folks let them know that 'yes—anyone can make a YouTube video. In many places, this kind of knowledge is not very common. So, the fact that an organized group can make and share a video that looks like the news is mind-blowing for a lot of people."

Listen to the full conversation with Berhan here.

#6: Journalist Leo Schwartz

Leo Schwartz, a reporter for international nonprofit media organization Rest of World, was featured on the Priv8 Podcast in August. He talked about the dangers that government-operated spyware can pose to journalists.

"There are so many surveillance technologies that are being used around the world. In Mexico, there's evidence that some of the journalists who have been murdered in the past few years had spyware on their phones and were having their locations tracked. Of course, this is something that hasn't been directly proven, but it is highly suspect."

Still, "it's an exciting time to be a journalist and try and figure out how to change the way we're telling stories."

Listen to Leo's full talk on the Priv8 Podcast here.

#7: Internet Without Borders's Julie Owono

The most challenging aspect of advocating for Internet privacy and human rights is getting people to take you seriously, according to Julie Owono of Internet Without Borders.

"We tend to be so advanced in identifying threats and the dangers that when we talk about them, nobody listens to us—because they don't yet exist." To illustrate this point, Julie described an instance in 2011 when Internet Without Borders filed a lawsuit against Facebook with regards to its privacy policy. "We were pointing to the risks of storing large amounts of personal information in a single place," she said.

"Being European, and knowing the history of Europe around gathering personal data, we knew how these data could be misused if they were in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, ten years ago, people didn't care—some even laughed at us. And then Cambridge Analytica happened. Since then, many other episodes have proven that we were right to be concerned."

Listen to the full talk with Julie Owono here.

#8: Technoscience expert Kean Birch

"Assets are increasingly central to contemporary capitalism," said Kean Birch, Professor of Science & Technology Studies at York University, on a July episode of the Priv8 Podcast. He discussed a rising form of value creation he calls "rentiership," which describes the process of extracting revenue from existing assets instead of creating new goods and services.

"It's essentially a claim on the future. It's about owning future incomes and revenues that stem from an asset's qualities, such as productivity or scarcity. These can be inherent to an asset, or they can be created and constructed" during a second process Kean calls "assetization."

Derek compared "rentiership" with the data economy, mentioning the popular mantra that "data is the new oil." Kean explained that "Data isn't just oil—it's also something that has other kinds of qualities to it, one being that it's a creation of our lives." For this reason, "there's an interesting, 'reflexive' element to it: the more we know about what people do with our data, the more we change our behaviors. This can cause change in the quality of the data that's collected."

Listen to the conversation with Kean here.

#9: Author and Journalist Gian Volpicelli

Gian Volpicelli, Senior Editor at Wired U.K. and author of Cryptocurrency: How Digital Money Could Transform Finance, sees cryptocurrency as a political issue.

"There have been various waves of political movements in crypto," he told Derek on a November episode of the Priv8 Podcast. "It started with the cypherpunk origins of Bitcoin and Ethereum. Later, there was Facebook's Diem (formerly Libra), when one of Silicon Valley's largest companies tried to become a currency printer.

"Diem was so deeply political that the project is now dead in the water. However, its presence did contribute to a recent surge in central bank digital currency (CBDC) development—for example, China's digital yuan."

Listen to the full interview with Gian here.

#10: Access Now's Brett Solomon

Brett Solomon is the co-founder and executive director of Access Now, an organization that defends and extends the digital rights of vulnerable populations. He joined Orchid's Derek Silva on an episode of Priv8 in October.

"The concept of digital rights has shifted. We had traditionally defined these rights as the freedoms of opinion and expression, as well as the ability to access information and assemble. But there's so much more to it now."

"Today, nearly all of our rights are at risk. Governments are deeply concerned with national security and political control—and as a result, everything from healthcare to education to the very right to life has been impacted. The kind of digital environment that we're living in today is increasingly militarized and surveilled. So how do we rally around that? How do we protect those rights?"

Listen to Brett's full conversation here.

Here's to a great year

We are very grateful to all of the amazing guests who appeared on the Priv8 Podcast throughout the year, and to the greater Orchid and Priv8 communities, which play a vital role in helping the privacy movement thrive.

If you'd like to stay up-to-date on what's happening in the world of digital privacy, join Orchid each week for the Priv8 Podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean, or TuneIn. Happy New Year!

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Feb 15, 2021
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