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The Evolution of Privacy

May 1, 2017

 

You, dear reader, no longer have any real privacy. A broad statement perhaps? Nope. Sure, you may close your blinds at night and cut up your old credit cards, even shred some confidential documents from time to time, but the idea of privacy that your parents and grandparents held dear is long gone. Consider an evening out…just a few years ago you could buy a newspaper, pick out a movie, head to a restaurant and that movie, head home and watch a little TV before bedtime. You may have picked up that paper at newsstand, paid cash for that paper and your dinner, and the movie…and watched some cable or broadcast TV to end the evening. Pretty simple and you’d have been pretty much below the radar most of the time. Now consider that same evening  today. You’ve likely gone online to check the movie time. That data has been recorded. May be you’ve used Lyft or Uber - data recorded. You may have taken public transportation and used a breeze or metro card. Data recorded. And that public transportation? Likely covered by CCTV cameras and card scanners. Smile, you’re on a CCTV camera pretty much everywhere. That restaurant…you gave a stranger, that waiter or cashier, your credit card. He/she disappeared for a bit with that card. Very trusting of you (and me) to give that card away, especially when we are so diligent in cutting up your no longer active cards before disposing of them. Of course your waiter is completely honest, but your purchase record and that of the movie tickets, also now a record of your movements and purchase habits. You got cash? From an ATM with cameras and records of the transaction?  Did you tweet or post anything about the film you just hated? The data now resides out of your hands and in the files of a third party anxious to sell that info to marketers and advertisers. Back home and watching TV?  Now your cable company or subscription site has a complete record of your viewing habits. You have been tracked every step of the way and probably thought nothing about it.

 

If need be, it’s possible to reconstruct your entire evening, from where and how you traveled to what you ate, watched, even your opinions are discoverable based on our ability to gather data. Sounds innocuous, after all you’re not engaged in criminal activities (I sincerely hope), but think about this. Everything you’ve searched for online, all the “confidential” financial and health information that you’ve ever entered or has been provided to you about yourself, your children, business, places you’ve visited, streets you’ve walked down, items you ordered, etc., all of that resides in a file somewhere. And we’ve seen time and time again that no file is safe from those who have the knowhow to steal it and or exploit it. Should someone have the desire, your life could literally be an open book.

But let’s pile on even more, shall we? In 2016 Samsung announced that yes, as some experts pointed out, their smart TVs could be hacked to record conversations from your own home. A recent photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s work space at Facebook seemed to indicate that he has placed tape over his laptop’s camera. Cybersecurity experts I know do the same thing with regularity. Yes, your laptop camera can be hijacked and turned into a remote recording device. As the IoT becomes more and more prevalent, just about every aspect of your life will be subject to analysis. From your driving habits (IoT in cars) to how often you run the dishwasher, will be scrutinized and utilized to determine what to how and what sell to you next.

 

Let’s take it down a notch to something less technical. Open office spaces, in some cases with first come first serve seating have gone a long way in redefining our notions al privacy. From personal phone calls to what’s on your computer screen, we’ve seen a shift towards the creation of a sort of perceived force field around our individual spaces. We’ve come to accept this as “just the way things are.” It’s often been written that Millennials (there you are again -the every referenced millennials

 

) are less concerned with data privacy and see the advantages of sharing information that would have been considered too personal just a few years ago. But it’s too easy to paint the millennial generation with any broad brush. They are just as unwilling to share healthcare and financial information as any other group. As a matter of fact, a recent Pew Research study notes that “young adults generally are more focused than their elders when it comes to online privacy.” That study asked about some privacy-protective strategies, as well: Among the 18-to-29-year-olds surveyed, 74 percent said they had cleared cookies and browser histories, 71 percent had deleted or edited something they had posted, 49 percent had configured their browsers to reject cookies, 42 percent had decided not to use certain sites that demanded their real names, and 41 percent had used temporary user names or email addresses. In each of those categories, the younger users surpassed their elders. It seems that many “elders” are less savvy about the repercussions of sharing information online than their kids. And btw, a study by the National Cybersecurity Alliance found that 60% of teenagers had created a social media account or use an app that their parents have no knowledge of. No surprise there.

 

So, in the end, our old notions of privacy, which are fairly recent development in our history, are evolving…evolving at the pace of technological advancements. The downside is that information that we truly wish to keep private is vulnerable. It’s out there somewhere, ready to be used by marketers, governments (the good and the bad) criminals (pretty much the bad), bullies, healthcare professionals, etc. and etc.…The upside? I’m not so sure of the upside…yet.

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