In certain industries, there has always been a need for privacy-enhancing technologies. Medical research cannot be performed responsibly without strong anonymity and pseudonymity guarantees, as it is the case with many military and high-security domains of application. PETs are a nascent, but potentially disruptive set of technologies that could enable significantly greater sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving, trustworthy manner.

Before we take a closer look at them, it’s important to explain what PETs are. In short, the term “Privacy Enhancing Technologies” covers the broader range of technologies that are designed for supporting privacy and data protection. PETs have been characterised in various ways. 

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An OECD Report states: “Privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) commonly refer to a wide range of technologies that help protect personal privacy. Ranging from tools that provide anonymity to those that allow a user to choose if, when and under what circumstances personal information is disclosed, the use of privacy enhancing technologies helps users make informed choices about privacy protection. PETs can empower users and consumers seeking to control the disclosure, use and distribution of personal information online. PETs can also aid businesses and organisations in enforcing their own privacy policies and practices.”

Another definition from the OECD Report: “PETs vary widely in their functionality, capabilities, technical structure and usability. However, all PETs aim to give the individual user or technology manager the capability of controlling if, how much or under what circumstances information is disclosed.” 

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Accelerating the research, development and adoption of PETs

A report from The Royal Society stresses that “funders, government, industry and the third sector can work together to articulate and support the development of cross-sector research challenges, alongside providing continued support for fundamental research on PETs. There is a considerable market opportunity for PETs. Data-handling companies need to be encouraged to engage with the start-ups and scale-ups developing PETs, supporting research and early trials.” 

Moreover, “there is a need for government, public bodies and regulators to raise awareness further and provide advice about how suitably mature PETs can mitigate privacy risks and address regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Standards and kitemarks are needed for quality assurance and to increase ‘buyer confidence’ in PETs.” Government can be an important early adopter, using PETs and being open about their use so that others can learn from their experience. “Government departments should consider what existing processing might be performed more safely with PETs and how PETs could unlock new opportunities for data analysis, whilst fully addressing privacy and confidentiality concerns”, adds The Royal Society’s report.

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Privacy, a focal point for businesses across industries

In an article published by The Fintech Times, Ellison Anne Williams – Founder and CEO Enveil – says that “Privacy continues to be a focal point for businesses across industries, but especially for those like financial service organisations who regularly handle sensitive and regulated information. Technology is a key enabler, ensuring business goals can be achieved without sacrificing privacy and security. PETs are, and will continue to be, a foundational force behind these privacy solutions.”

Areas where PETs can bring visible improvements

“While the industry is just beginning to recognise the power of PETs to enable, enhance, and preserve the privacy of data throughout its lifecycle, we’re already seeing these solutions be put to use for a number of use cases today. Banks are using PETs to enable secure data sharing and collaboration for activities such as Know You Customer (KYC) and customer due diligence, as well as broader customer screening use cases”, adds Anne Williams.

For banks, being able to access more data in a secure, privacy-preserving, and efficient manner translates into making better, intelligence-led decisions in a business-relevant timeframe. “Those additional data points and resulting insights are especially important when working to combat money laundering and fraud on a global scale. With PETs, they can prioritise customer privacy while still ensuring data is accessible when and where it needs to be. By enabling secure, decentralized data sharing and collaboration, PETs are delivering capabilities that cannot otherwise occur in the current regulatory environment.”

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PETs play an important role for privacy and data protection

Privacy and data protection are fundamental human rights. In its “Online privacy tools for the general public” report, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) takes a closer look at privacy enhancing technologies. “Following the revelations on mass surveillance of electronic communications, it is widely recognised that one of the most serious concerns today is the preservation of privacy when using Internet and mobile applications. This concern has given rise to an increasing appearance of online tools, often open-source and/or freeware, affirming that they can offer certain privacy-preventive functionality for the average user, such as for example secure communication, protection against tracking, safeguarding of personal data, anonymous browsing, etc.”

However, “in many cases the functionality of such tools is not as expected, for example due to lack of transparency on the tool’s development and operation or lack of proper maintenance mechanisms. Privacy enhancing technologies that fail to offer what they promise can be very dangerous, as the false sense of protection can compromise the users’ personal data and negatively affect or even put in harm’s way their personal life.”

In another study, titled “Readiness Analysis for the Adoption and Evolution of Privacy Enhancing Technologies“, ENISA highlights the need for politicians, supervisory authorities, funding agencies, or standardisation bodies to have a better overview on the maturity of PETs. “For decades, privacy enhancing technologies have been playing an important role in the discussions on privacy and data protection.”

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How Modex helps users regain control of their own data

In a world where data has become the cornerstone that supports and fuels business interactions, digital protection has established itself as an essential component which protects the interests of companies that operate and process large amounts of data. Data loss can generally be the result of a hardware failure, human error, or malware attack. Regardless of the cause, data loss can have serious consequences for a company, such as financial losses, creating bottlenecks in the internal workflow and, most importantly, diminishing customer confidence.

Blockchain technology represents, in this case, one of the most important developments that has appeared on the tech scene in recent years. Using a combination of multiple technologies, encryption techniques and advanced algorithms, blockchain technology offers by default a unique range of advantages and features such as data integrity, immutability, distribution, traceability – elements that restore control to users, making them true owners of digital identity.

The direct beneficiaries are technology companies, various industries and government institutions – virtually any type of organization that relies on a database. Of course, new, innovative technologies are often received and viewed with restraint, especially when it comes to their implementation in real life. Companies are always looking for new ways to enhance database security, as well as a way to improve the way they handle data. Because of this, the transfer of databases has become a sensitive issue for every entity, as any breach or corruption of data could prove disastrous.

The Modex Blockchain Database solution overcomes these problems with its technology, which allows developers to easily transfer a database to a blockchain framework. The migration tool does its best: it scans the database and transmits the data through a hash algorithm to produce a unique summary for each data record, which is then loaded into the blockchain to ensure immutability, integrity and availability.