About a month before I found out I would be attending CES 2018, I read Hunter S. Thompson's classic novel, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." What a coincidence that I would soon be occupying some of the same areas documented in one of the most wild drug trips in American literature.
I am here to tell you that my experience and Dr. Gonzo's experience in Sin City have absolutely nothing in common. No bats. No drugged out lawyers dolling out bad advice. No wistful mourning of the 1960s.
Instead, I continued my exploration of all of what CES 2018 had to offer. On my first day, I went to the Las Vegas Convention Center to observe some of the biggest trends coming out of this year's show. On the second day, I made my way to the Sands Expo and Convention Center as the show floors opened and the exhibitors finally were able to show the world what they had to offer.
On the first floor of the Sands is Eureka Park, there resides a massive space where endless amounts of energized startups sought to gain the attention of thousands of curious show patrons. I made it my mission to see if privacy companies were among the fledgling startups, and I am happy to say I found some really interesting people to talk to.
One of the first startups I talked to was Allpriv, which is rolling out a solution for enterprises that allows employees to protect important information while on the road via a device they can carry around with them.
"We want to give the staffers on road the same protection they would have behind the firewall, behind the routers, behind all the protection they have inside their building," said AdvenmTV Consulting CEO Francois Modarresse.
Modarresse said Allpriv has caught the attention of the military in France, Israel, and other European countries, as well as working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Interestingly enough, Allpriv was hatched after the company's CEO was hacked after using the hotel Wi-Fi at CES a few years earlier.
While many other startups may aim for more mainstream privacy and security measures, Allpriv's mission is to carve out that niche audience of privacy-concerned travelers in order to ensure others avoid a fate similar to its head honcho.
It must be difficult to catch the attention of the thousands of CES patrons, but privacy-centric startups found their ways to draw you in.
French-based iProtego dawned magician outfits as they debuted their FamilyWebcare solution designed to allow parents to scan the web in order to delete social media accounts and inappropriate content as they continue their work as a web reputation management solution operating out of a region where the "right to be forgotten" is law.
However, the best example of creative ways to draw people in was when I met a woman draped with a sign simply stating "Looking for Elon Musk."
I asked the woman if she had any luck finding him. She said no, but offered to jointly search for him together. I happily agreed and then she asked me what I was at CES for. When I said data privacy, she smiled and led me to her station.
That is how I met Schluss Chief Essential Officer Marie-José Hoefmans, who told me about her company's plan to give users the ability to control their personal information on the internet.
If that's not A-plus marketing, I don't know what is.
Schluss is developing a digital vault where users have the ability to store all of their personal data, ranging from names and addresses, to financial information and medical records. Schluss will allow users to log into various websites and online services and share their data safely, while pledging to never give away and sell information.
Hoefmans said the startup has been received positively by the Dutch Data Protection Authority, the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, as they continue to bring their app to market.
When I asked about life as a startup, Hoefmans said Schluss does not use that label. Instead, Schluss views itself as a movement and a worldwide cooperative. As it works to give the power of personal data back to the people, Schluss attempts to live up to that pledge by being open-sourced, giving anyone the chance to work on the app.
The passion for privacy was also evident when I talked to Valere Fedronic, the founder and CEO of Facetts, an app designed to allow communities to converse safely without fear of having their privacy violated.
Facetts displayed how their app can be used to allow communities, such as the LGBTQ, or anyone who has suffered an eating disorder, to talk with anyone else with the peace of mind knowing their communications are encrypted and to fight back against algorithmic biases for marginalized communities. Facetts is also the first startup I saw that mentioned it has taken a privacy-by-design approach to its creation.
Fedronic took the strongest stance of any company I spoke to when discussing privacy, going as far as calling data, and attempts by companies to monetize the information as "toxic."
"A lot of startups rely on this business model to make money," said Fedronic. "We have a lot of great services, but someone has to pay, and currently we are paying with our data."
Around this point, I realized that all of the startups I had spoken to were coming from Europe, specifically France. It really should not have been surprising to me, given the European philosophy toward privacy, but I'll be honest, it was still a bit perplexing. I finally found my way to Daplie, a U.S.-based startup that creates personal servers designed to protect users' personal information.
Along with being the first U.S. startup I spoke with, Daplie is the first to mention it works with cryptocurrencies as well, ensuring we hit all the big privacy topics.
Speaking of big topics, I was wondering if the looming EU General Data Protection Regulation would work its way into conversation. Sure enough it did, but I was not expecting to talk about makeup and smart mirrors along with it.
CareOS is a smart service located entirely within the bathroom, giving users the opportunity to examine everything from how well they are brushing their teeth, to a smart mirror that can measure whether moles on your skin are growing. The solution also touted its use of PbD, ensuring all the connected devices within a bathroom are safe from intruders. Collected data is secured and cannot be shared without the user's consent. If it is shared, the data is both encrypted and anonymized.
CareOS Head of Communications Chloé Szulzinger said the solution went with a PbD approach to ensure compliance with the GDPR. The company has partnered with several organizations, some of which already claim to be in compliance with the impending rules. However, not all of the solution's partners are aligned with the GDPR, but Szulzinger does not see that as a negative.
"We have some big partners that we know are not GDPR-compliant," said Szulzinger. "But we feel that this is an opportunity for them to be compliant with this new rule and to have a fresh start because eventually everyone will have to be on the same page."
A fresh start seems to be in order for many of these fledgling companies as CES 2018 continues throughout the week. As the GDPR and other privacy issues appear on the horizon, it looks like there will be a fresh group of passionate companies ready to take them on.
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