Five worthy reads is a regular column on five noteworthy items we’ve discovered while researching trending and timeless topics. This week, let’s zoom in on privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), which deal with the common yet pressing concern of data privacy and security.

Privacy-enhancing technology

Illustrated by Balaji K R

How many times has your finger hovered over the button on a website before submitting your data? Or, you felt skeptical about handing over your personal information to a third party? If not always, at least once, I imagine. With the increase in cybersecurity threats and breaches across the globe, it is crucial to secure your data along with the data entrusted by your customers. Enter Privacy Enhancing Technology (PET). This technology has been around for a couple of decades but only recently has been tested and proven to be efficient.

This trend was mentioned under the “people centricity” category in 2021’s latest technology trends by Gartner. The research and advisory firm revealed that by 2025, 60% of large organizations will use one or more privacy-enhancing techniques in analytics, business intelligence, or cloud computing. This trend includes three technologies that: (1) provide a trusted environment in which sensitive data can be processed or analyzed, (2) perform processing and analytics in a decentralized manner, (3) encrypt data and algorithms before processing or analytics. The objective of PET is to make it possible to share data while maintaining privacy and security.

PET is considered an umbrella term for a set of robust technologies that work towards enabling, enhancing, and securing sensitive data during processing. A few of these techniques include homomorphic encryption, zero-knowledge proofs, multiparty computation, trusted execution environments, and differential privacy. As complicated as these techniques sound, they open a whole new world of opportunities. Take a look at five interesting reads about this trend.

1. What are Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs)?

This article paves a clean road towards understanding the concept of privacy-enhancing computation. You will learn about the objective of PET and its provided technologies, the reason behind its recognition in recent times, and even its risks.

2. Three cases for Privacy Enhancing Technologies and their relevance

After exploring the objective and the wide range of technologies provided by PET, this article will take you through the use cases of this trend. PET is applied in AI modeling, cross-border data transfers, and data analytics to help security and risk stakeholders manage constraints while respecting individual privacy. It is also mentioned that PET can be used to mitigate the risks posed by cloud computing and data analysis.

3. The next generation of machine learning: Federated learning takes enterprise AI a step forward  

This article talks about federated learning, a form of PET (privacy enhancing technologies), which takes standard machine learning one step forward in the direction of decentralization. Federated learning enables machine learning algorithms to gain knowledge from a wide range of data sets sourced from different locations. Also, this enables users to achieve data minimization by reducing the amount of data that must be retained on a centralized server or in cloud storage.

4. Why PETs (Privacy-Enhancing Technologies) may not always be our friends?

To gain another perspective on this trend, this article addresses how the regulatory bodies evaluate available tools, including PETs. Apart from making the evaluation process difficult for the law and policymakers due to its complexity, that article notes that PETs are expensive and resource intensive, which makes them prone to user errors. With the mention of “giving a false sense of hope”, PETs are said to shift external privacy issues to internal, thereby leading the bad actors to rely on insider threats.

5. How Tech Companies Can Use Providerless Technology To Help Fix Their Data Privacy Problem

With the help of a data baron’s confession, this article sheds light on providerless technology powered by PET and reveals how it eliminates the need to sell or share data with a third-party. In providerless solutions, third-party providers are replaced by companies interacting directly—a first-party rather than third-party data paradigm. So, all the companies in a providerless network benefit from one another’s first-party data.

To dive deep into the variety of techniques used in PET and learn how providerless technology is used to validate users online, take a look at this ebook. It explains the value of eliminating third-parties and discusses the privacy of data issues.

Despite its benefits, the author contends that using PETs can further consolidate power and control in the hands of those who might be in the position to exploit them. PETs can be useful in reducing some of the risks associated with legitimate uses of data but, if we are not careful, an overreliance on PETs risks making privacy the handmaiden of surveillance and technological overreach.