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Privacy is Dead. Now we need to manage our circumstances

Most people confuse privacy issues with security. Further, they don't really want privacy, they want convenience and discounted goods. They think they want security, but they actually want "easy" and free. This study done in London determined people will give up their privacy and security for a chocolate bar.

A CEO of a major software company declares, “You have zero privacy, get over it.” In response, the FTC states, “Millions of American consumers tell us that privacy is a grave concern to them when they are thinking about shopping online.”

Do you agree? Is privacy dead? Do you share your “status” on Facebook? Twitter? Do you have a MySpace page? A blog? Do you post your family photos on any of the above, or on Flicker?

The statement, “You have zero privacy, get over it,” was made by Scott McNealy, former chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, in 1999. That was 10 years ago. Before the phrase “social networking” or the word “blog” entered our lexicon.

Here we are in 2009, when that statement is 100 times more true than it was 10 years ago. When you ask people if they are concerned about online privacy, they respond with a big, loud, angry “YES!” Then they hypocritically use their Facebook pages to inform the world that they are about to go on vacation. Which means that the lights are off and nobody’s home.

It isn’t just web users voluntarily giving up their privacy, it’s also corporations and government agencies gathering data as a form of intelligence. This data might be used to sell you something or it could be used to protect us in the form of Homeland Security.

Our personal information can be bought and sold. “Information brokers” sell our data to anyone with a credit card. One of the largest publicly traded information brokers in the world is a company called ChoicePoint. Last time I checked, they had 19 billion records on file. And one of their biggest customers is the US government.

So even if you don’t update your Facebook status to tell the world you just made a tuna sandwich, chances are, your phone number, your most recent address, or even your anonymous chat handle can be found on or If you’ve ever committed a felony, your data may be on Heck, just Google yourself.

At least head to Facebook and lock down your privacy settings. You get to them from the Settings –> Privacy Settings menu.  

If you are reading this, you are participating in society. The price you pay is sacraficing your personal identifying information in order to get an Internet connection, credit, a car, medical attention, to go to school or buy a pair of shoes. While many citizens scream against Big Brother and corporate America abusing their trust, many will also give up all their privacy for ten% off a new pair of shoes.

All this makes it very easy for criminal hackers to commit identity theft. They use this available data to become you. Since your data is already out there, you’d better invest in identity theft protection and make sure your PC is up to date with Internet security software.

For more information, I recommend You Have Zero Privacy - Enjoy It! by Mike Spinny, and Cyberwar’s First Casualty: Your Privacy by Preston Gralla and Why give up Privacy? by Bob Sullivan

Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert, discusses background checks.


Comments: (1)

Stephen Wilson
Stephen Wilson - Lockstep Consulting - Sydney 02 May, 2009, 10:54Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


I couldn't disagree more that "privacy is dead".

The chocolate bar study quoted by Robert was a crock.  So people in the street revealed a password for a chocolate.  The "researchers" had no idea if the password was important or even true; neither could they tell if the password was changed as soon as the person got back to their computer.  The "researchers" were had!

Robert oversimplifies the human condition when he says people "think they want security, but they actually want 'easy' and free".  Yes, convenience sometimes trumps security; yes, sometimes users trade-off privacy for a retail reward.   But so what?  People are complex and unpredictable, their behaviour is not black-and-white.

He's right that security and privacy are often confused -- most often I am afraid to say by IT practitioners.  Privacy is all about control of one's information.  And those who cry that the Facebook phenomenon "proves" that privacy is dead are underestimating the control that is exercised by typical Facebook users.  No Facebook user divulges everything about themselves; if they keep anything back, then they are exercising control over their privacy.

We should not make too much of the fact that some young people seem cavalier in social networking, sometimes revealing too much about themselves.  Social networking is still very new, and the way it is used is fast evolving.  The young make all sorts of mistakes, and come to regret some of their actions.  They take risks -- which is why we don't let 20 year old males set road safety policy.  None of this means privacy is dead.  And it certainly doesn't give licence to commercial operators to take the private information of others into their own hands, as we’ve seen some try to do from time to time. 

Stephen Wilson, Lockstep.


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