Author: Alexander Raif, Lead Security Architect and Deputy CISO, Maccabi Healthcare Services
The original headline I chose was “Privacy is dead-prepare yourself”.
Then I deleted it and struggled whether to keep it, or change it to “New Privacy Era- Privacy is a perception of the individual.”
Let’s start exploring the new Era of Privacy.
Many people think and feel that they have nothing to hide – but what do you think? Maybe they are wrong? Or naive? I know a lot of people who like to respond to any news about the surveillance of law-abiding citizens or about an occasional data leak with the phrase, “I have nothing to hide.” By the way, Windows 10 users especially love this phrase when they stumble upon news about horrific leaks of personal data in their favourite operating system. ‘’Windows 10 spying? Well okay, no problem, I have nothing to hide’’.
To start our journey exploring privacy, and in order to keep things in perspective, I’d like to take you to China:
There’s a woman – we will call her ‘Lady G’. She is a modern Chinese woman, works in marketing and has achieved a lot in life thanks to her own hard work. However, there is a “but”: Lady G is being watched 24 hours a day. The territory of China is covered by a network of 200 million surveillance cameras, from which there is literally no place to hide. They record every step of each resident and Lady G is perfectly happy with that.
The script of the future, as if it had come from the pages of Huxley or Orwell, comes to life before our very eyes in China. The ruling party promises that the so-called ‘social credit system’ will become fully operational by 2020 and ’will allow those who are worthy to live freely, but will not allow those who are unworthy to take a step without consequences’’’.
So this is an extreme example in order to show you that, depending on your location, things are not as bad as many think, and that we still have control of our privacy.
It is important to understand that it is almost impossible to maintain complete anonymity on the Internet – especially when an increasing number of devices that we use every day connect to the network. Our data is not only interesting to attackers, but also to government agencies and private companies alike. By tracking user behaviour on the Internet, companies earn money by selling on consumer information to advertisers.
In the process of writing my book, dealing with the impact of young people on the privacy perception, I have found some very interesting data:
Teens are sharing more details about themselves on social media profiles, but few do so publicly – 60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private. Furthermore, teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-party access to their data, with just 9% saying they are “very” concerned.
Teenagers today feel that they are in a hopeless situation, and that feeling extends to when they get on the Internet. When it comes to sharing information online, they develop an internal conflict about what can and cannot be published. At the same time, the parents of these teens complain that they require confidentiality. Teenagers do not like it when one of their parents is in their room, or when someone eavesdrops on their conversations – but that’s nothing new. I myself was like that, albeit a long time ago when there was no private space called the Internet.
This article is not about data protection laws and regulation, and I will not cover cybersecurity threats and mitigation. It is intended to show you the difference between the reality and the perception. Although many people ‘have nothing to hide’, while others have the false sense that their data privacy is of a sufficiently high level, my argument in this article is that there is no such thing as privacy on the internet. The two words cannot sit together comfortably in the same sentence.
Everything that somehow gets on the Web immediately becomes public, which is why I advise users to think twice before posting any content on the world wide web.
When it comes to statements regarding possible privacy or non-proliferation of information on the Web, no matter who broadcasts such information (whether individual companies or the state), the user always needs to be aware that this is a deceit – a definite ploy – and not because it demonstrates some kind of bad faith on the part of the company or the state. The fact is that everything that goes on the Web potentially becomes open information.
There’s no fool-proof way to protect your privacy and data security from the government, for example, but there are plenty of basic, important steps people can take to reduce the risk.
Privacy is dead. It’s not easy to live with – but you can get used to it.
Just as long as you know what you are giving up and you make that choice then you’ll be fine. But don’t forget – whatever you know, ‘they’ know. And that is the way it will always be.
So, here’s to a better web experience, marketers that know more about what we want than we do, and a complete and total loss of privacy that really makes a minimal difference to our lives. Heck, we share it all anyway. Don’t we?
One thing is for sure: on the Internet, internet connected devices and in cyber space, there is no real privacy or anonymity. There is only an individual perception on the limit of self-exposure.