Privacy is dead.

May 10th, 2010

You cannot reasonably expect that any information shared online is completely private.

The reality is that we do.

People gossip on Twitter, slant people on Facebook or even upload videos to YouTube. Hell everyone can admit to saying something via email they regret….

Let me explain to you why it’s dead.

Firstly if what you are sharing is juicy enough, the people that see it will get it out, just look at failbooking.com (yes they blur the names) but you get the point, if it’s newsworthy enough it’ll get out.

Michael Phelps found this out when photos of him with drug paraphelia popped up on Facebook – sure enough someone within his network leaked it. So that’s the biggest sieve – YOU and ME. We can’t be trusted.

Everyone is hackable, like the first point, we all have security leaks. Whether it’s the fact all our passwords are the same, we leave our email logged in or our forgotten password questions are weak.

My point is, in a targetted attacked all of us are vulnerable, Sarah Palin even had her Yahoo email hacked during the US election. ¬†How? They guessed the answer to her secret question. If it’s online and can be identified as coming from you, chances are someone can eventually access it.

That’s not even getting into how your data is transferred. Under recent law changes ISPS in New Zealand (and many places around the world) have internet filters on, to ensure people don’t access a blacklist of websites, for obvious reasons they don’t publish the list of websites (which rightfully scares some people). ¬†However this means, somewhere along the line a computer program is examining the website you’re looking at to see if it’s a ok.

Further the path from your computer to the recipient is loose, work emails for example are often monitored (and archived). If you work in the public sector policy is to retain a copy of all emails. Even then your information is often not secure, frequently instant messaging services do not encrypt their communications, meaning people can snoop in on the conversation.

The longevity of information online is virtually indefinite (in terms of our lifetimes) lets say you say something you regret via email so delete it. However if the recipient doesn’t also do the same… it can pop up again in the future. Online communications leave a breadcrumb… which can be followed.

In short, do not share information you don’t reasonably expect to pop up again at some point in the future. It’s just dumb.

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6 Responses to “Privacy is dead.”

  1. Ben Young Says:

    Update: This post is a caution, the web will get more secure however at the end of the day if it can be spoken, pick up the phone. Only write what needs to be written. And be smart about the information you’re sharing.

  2. Rich Chetwynd Says:

    The so called “old boys” who have been labelled in many industries as slow adopters of technology may just have been on to some all along.

    I feel a blacklash is brewing and many of the Gen Ys that believe in share everything, build your personal brand etc may regret it in 5ish years time.

  3. Robbie Mackay Says:

    I’ve operated on the assumption nothing is secure or private for a while now, but try to maintain security where required and use common sense in what you share… but its often not an answer people want to hear when talking about security.

    The other thing to remember is that if you couldn’t deal with having something you’re doing broadcast widely then maybe you shouldn’t do it at all. It might still be embarrassing, but if its going to ruin your career, your marriage or the like.. then don’t try and keep it private, just don’t do it in the first place.

  4. Louis Rosas-Guyon Says:

    Another great article Ben!

    I’ve advised all my customers to being to adapt to the reality that privacy is a myth. http://blog.r2computing.com/2009/03/myth-of-privacy.html

    Anything that they do not want public should never be shared via any electronic means. Sensitive information should be in hard copy and strictly controlled to ensure it never leaks.

    This also goes to the issue of legal discovery. Companies that keep years worth of emails and other communications are completely insane. A simple subpoena can snatch all those electronic communications with a judge’s signature. How’d you like 10 years worth of emails being combed through by your competitors as part of a lawsuit?

  5. TIm de Jardine Says:

    I think you are missing the point with this article. Privacy may be ‘dead’ in terms of technological understanding and cause-effect relationship on the internet. e.g I upload that Facebook picture without realizing the world can see it. If you approach it from a human (real-life) understanding, it is important to the majority of people and they still cherish the idea.

    Part of the solution to this problem is educating and making it easy for people to understand. Making it easy is exactly what Facebook seems against. That is where the problem lies.

  6. Ben Young Says:

    @Tim Exactly, that’s the purpose of the post, to throw caution into the wind. So people second guess what they do with their information and where it goes. -Ben



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