Most of my life has been spent doing nerd things in the name of national defense. It has caused me to become a bit of tinfoil hat wearing, paranoid, nerd but that’s not the point of this writing. I’ve found that a lot of friends and family think I’m ridiculous about it and as a result tend to scoff at some of the realities. This is an attempt to break down the current privacy situation as I see it and why it may matter for you. This isn’t targetted at my fellow tinfoilers, but for the average person that ever thought “maybe I should read up on that topic.” I have provided sources where possible and hovering over links will give a brief description. I’ll try to limit my opinions to this:
This isn’t the result of some big government conspiracy. In our enduring attempts at increased convenience, entertainment, and nation/state/personal security, we have continued to sacrifice privacy. That’s not a declaration of it being right or wrong, just how we got here. These days, due to the minimum cost of storage, information is rarely deleted by anyone. If you’re a company then you don’t want to delete customer data because you want to analyze it and increase sales, or you may sell it to data brokers for extra revenue. If a company goes bankrupt then its customer data will be sold to pay back any outstanding debt. Turns out, if you’re the government then you also don’t want to delete the data so that you can analyze it or sell it. It is not just the idea of the collection of this data that I see as the risk, but the insecure ways in which it is collected, accessed, transmitted, and stored. And remember - nothing is free! If you’re using a ‘free’ service or app then you aren’t the customer, you and the data you generate are the product.
My fear of the loss of privacy is not based around what I do being illegal or immoral, but is based on what someone could try to accuse me of from their interpation of the data that I, or others, leave behind in our day to day activities. I’m not just afraid of what my government could do with this information, but what other governments, hackers and others might do.
I feel that one of the things people trivialize the most is how their personal life is impacted when they are aware of their lack of privacy. It comes from a general stigma of “what is normal” and whether or not those around us are accepting of the abnormal. Usually I would cite sex as the common topic where people would likely change their behavior if presented with a situation where they have no privacy, as they may no longer satisfy certain fetishes or hide their gender preference, etc. But what I also find scary is that in today’s society there are many more professional risks for people (perceived and real). We have seen CEOs forced out for making unpopular campaign contributions despite a decade of successful service. This can give power to the invaders of your privacy, as they can leverage their knowledge of you and your fear of its disclosure to encourage certain behavior by you. This ability is best explained by Game theory. This leaves you with two options: minimize the information you leave out there, or refrain from doing or saying what the masses would consider abnormal if disclosed.
That was a long rant and you are probably thinking, “Well, I still don’t care because nothing in my life would give anyone cause for investigation, arrest, blackmail, etc.” But here’s the problem: these large sets of data are mined to the best of one’s ability, which is to say “not perfectly.” So when someone like a credit agency is constantly mining data and says they do it with 99% accuracy, which sounds impressive, it glosses over the tens of millions of people they incorrectly rate. So you should ask yourself: what can I do to minimize my sharing of data?
Well, let’s start small. How much do you share on social media? How much do you need to share on social media? I have a lot of people tell me that they use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc so that they can ‘see what their friends and family are doing,’ without actually talking to them. At a minimum you are disclosing what your social network is. But did you fill out the biography information on it? Could I use your profile to easily determine your birthday, mother’s maiden name, and other information used when stealing identities? Did you give them your phone number for security checks which they use to identify you in third party data that they buy? Did you give them your nude selfies? Do you post publicly when you go on vacation which lets criminals know your house is unattended?
Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s not even the tip of the iceberg but it’s a good place to stop for one day.
Go on to Part 2