Depending on who you ask cookies are either essential to the operation of the internet, or the most evil thing that has ever been created because of privacy…PRRRRIIIIIVVVVACCCCCYY…issues. This always surprises me because nobody else spends money trying to track us, thankfully all those payments on our cards or CCTV cameras aren’t keeping an eye on us. I really struggle with what the issue is here. A lot of companies and websites make their money through advertising, and better knowledge of their customers means better sales (and ads) and means they keep their marketing costs down. We live in a society which demands that the web is free (both financially and politically) yet do not want in any way to pay for it. Can you do without the internet, and you know live like they used to do in 1995?
Will I be changing my privacy settings? Unlikely. Most of the data is anonymous, and let’s be honest most of us are lackadaisical with our privacy anyway. Unless you are in living in a dictatorship there are not evil conspirators using your data for nefarious means, and if you were under one of these regimes then targeted advertisements is the least of your privacy concerns.
After working in a fraud department for many years I’m very aware of how easy it is for criminals to prey on others. It has only got easier with the advent of social networks for the digital criminal to gain important information for possible targets. According to a report we did at work (which I can’t link to as it is out of date) nearly half of social media users (49%) have never ‘Googled’ themselves so they are unaware of the personal information that digital criminals can instantly uncover:
- Over half of social media users (58%) have set up a profile on the internet which they no longer use – 35% of these are on Friends Reunited, and 18% on an online dating website.
- Nearly one in five (17%) who have ‘Googled’ themselves found information which they weren’t aware was publicly available
- Over half (57%) are unaware that anyone searching on the internet can access and read their tweets”
I know I take great care to not post any personal information regarding my whereabouts into the public domain, and I have played with the privacy settings on Facebook (seriously people, they are there for a reason – and the reason is not love).
The internet is an extension of real life, would you tell someone you had never met before that you were going on holiday for a week and then give them your home address? This is how the digital criminal gets you, it is much easier to snare you with a little bit of social engineering (like pretending to be your friend) than having to work really hard at writing some fancy program to steal your personal data. It seems it’s not that hard for these dodgy types to make new chums, it seems. Over nine out of ten social media users have been asked to connect online with someone they have never met. Over half (51%) have then accepted.
Most worryingly it seems we are suckers for a pretty face, 11% of people accept a strangers request because they looked attractive in the photo. Sex sells even in the world of online crime it seems. How can we expect government and companies to respect our privacy when we are so cavalier with it ourselves. I know that I am easily found on the Internet, a quick search brings up most of my accounts and sites. The important thing is that I am not afraid of the information that is there, I have nothing to hide so I am not afraid to hide it.
I work with a number of people who take much more care of what Facebook or Twitter has to say about them, but does this not raise more suspicion? If I cannot see what you had to eat for breakfast then what are you also hiding about your political beliefs. Nobody forces you to post material that can cause you trouble in life but it does take a bit of self restraint in the first place.
In the end are we just as bad as the people we claim will abuse our privacy, how many have tried to find out information about others from Google or Facebook, do we not try to dig into someones past with a quick search and look at some pictures? Just because we haven’t the resources that some multi-million pound agency has does it make it alright, the date we collect is certainly not anonymous and is much more targeted. By hiding ourselves and reducing our own transparency we are just like the corporations that try to withhold news and leaks, and granted we cannot harass investigators with the taxman, creating a situation where we complain about one rule for some while we want our own exceptions.
What is the solution to this problem around online privacy, should we just open ourselves up to the realisation that nothing we do is secret anymore? The automation of the espionage industry has allowed people to be snooped on at greater lengths than ever but we should have a strong enough democracy that those who abuse our trust we can punish at the ballot box and the tills. Voices should raise about the Fourth Amendment in a similar way to the outcry over the Second, a real dictatorship never tries to suppress with guns but oppresses with silence. As a result we should be loud, we should shout as loud as we can about anything and everything and make it difficult to be able to separate the noise from the signal.
Being quiet and trying to hide just makes it easier for the enemies of free speech to find you, only by all of us standing in the open saying I am not afraid to speak freely can we really be free.