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6 ways we gave up our privacy

Bill Brenner | Oct. 14, 2009
Here's how privacy went the way of the dinosaur, how we let it happen and how we might be able to get some of it back

FRAMINGHAM, 12 OCTOBER 2009 - Privacy has long been seen as a basic, sacred right. But in the Web 2.0 world, where the average user is addicted to Google apps, GPS devices, their BlackBerry or iPhone, and such social networking sites as Facebook and Twitter, that right is slowly and willingly being chipped away. In fact, some security experts believe it's gone already.

Adding to this sobering reality is that public and private entities have a growing array of tools to track our movements, habits and choices. RFID tags are on more of the items we take for granted. Those discount cards you use at the grocery store offer companies an excellent snapshot of the choices you make. And in the post 9-11 world, the government has greatly expanded its power to spy on you with such laws as The Patriot Act.

"Your credit card company and your loyalty card program memberships track your purchases, travels, expenditure levels, and blend that into offers that meet your lifestyle profile," said John Zurawski, vice president of Authentify Inc. "Firms sell GPS devices specifically to be hidden in vehicles permitting anyone to track your movements. The RFID Tollway passes states offer to speed you through their toll roads know where you've been and how fast you drove."

Based on an informal survey of privacy and security experts, here are six examples of how we've willingly allowed our privacy to be taken away, and how we might be able to get some of it back.

1. Google

Google apps such as Gmail and Google calendar allow individuals and organizations to bring order to the hectic process of scheduling and communicating. But when you input company agenda items into the applications along with other proprietary information and potentially embarrassing things like an upcoming doctor's appointment, you're giving up privacy to Google, said Chicago-based business consultant Mark Cummuta, who specializes in compliance, security and CIO challenges.

"When Google first started, it said it would only use that information internally, to get a sense of the things you like and talk about," he said. "All that information used to be gathered in a way where you explicitly gave permission, through things like surveys. But Google can easily poke around without seeking permission, and they don't explain to you how they know what they know."

2. Social networking

It's getting increasingly harder NOT to find someone on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or all of the above. Then there's Myspace and a lot of lesser-known social networking sites. If you use these programs -- and you probably do -- chances are pretty good that you give up a lot of your privacy every day, willingly and even happily. Security experts have spent a lot of time ringing the alarm bell over this lately, because bad people can easily take the personal tidbits you post and use it against you, for everything from marketing to blackmail.

 

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