The impact of AI on your privacy: insights from a search engine CEO

We asked an AI app to help title this article and it must have done a good job as now you’re reading it. But, what does the rapid development of AI mean for people’s privacy and security?

As CEO of independent search engine Mojeek, Colin Hayhurst has a unique perspective. On one hand, he’s worked in academia with AI experts, then co-founded an AI startup consultancy. On the other hand, he’s developing the only global search engine that doesn’t track its users. He’s followed the recent AI-fuelled chatbot developments, and helped others such as Meta who are using Mojeek’s APIs as a data source for their chatbots.

With AI really taking off, is this a turning point for privacy?

“Chatbots have certainly shaken up the search space. There’s been little innovation in search engines for 15 years but that’s changing now thanks to AI. It’s both exciting and terrifying to those within the industry. But, I don’t think there will be a sudden change in how the public behave with their data. Online privacy issues have been rising since the early 00s when intense data harvesting started as Google sought to build their advertising business. This is just the latest chapter.”

“You know what they say, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” That’s the case with all these AI apps: people that are using them for free are training the AI to understand humans better. But for most people, convenience trumps their concerns over privacy.”

“Efforts to regulate data collection and protect privacy are often discussed but enforcement often doesn’t happen, and for Big Tech is probably seen just as a “cost of business”. Until the US government itself makes serious moves, the pattern will continue. In the meanwhile, we do need more awareness so that people can make their own choices about what information they are willing to give away.”

What’s your advice for anyone who is concerned about how much data they could be sharing on a daily basis?

  • Use privacy centric communications apps and switch your friends to them.
  • Look into whether your search engine tracks your behaviour. Mojeek does no tracking and shares data with no one. Some claim to be privacy friendly but still pass data on.
  • Find trustworthy virtual private networks (VPNs).
  • Opt for privacy-focused browsers.
  • Read privacy policies and try to think about what they aren’t explicitly saying as well as what they are.

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