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Privacy Is Dead

How We Give Away Our Private Information

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Privacy Is Dead
Getty/Vincent Besnault

Steven Rambam did a very interesting video lecture that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though the topic was really less than pleasant. He proposes that there is no such thing as privacy left in the world, only the illusion of it. He points to the Internet, social media specifically, and illustrates how willingly we give away information that can compromise our lives without considering the unintended consequences.

Naturally, during the lecture he talks about foibles on the Internet such as the Blippy breach back in 2010, in which purchases made with credit cards were searched out by Google, and being available for the world to see. It wasn't actually Google's fault, because Blippy had never marked that information as something Google should not search through.

Rambam has a background in private investigating, and this seems to be the main focus of his lecture. He brought up countless examples of individuals who had posted all sorts of criminal activity on their MySpace page and Facebook, as well as escapades that could have a negative impact future in their life, similar to the Lindsey Stone photo.

Naturally, as your Guide has always said, the primary focus of social media sites this to categorize in the file away all of the information about what you do and don't like. This makes it much more attractive to advertisers for target marketing. There is, after all, a huge difference between putting your ad in front of 10,000 people, and putting that same ad in front of 10,000 people you already know are interested in your products. Or whatever. Obviously what you share with your friends are things you like, so that's always a good place to start.

Rambam went on to talk about the kind of information that would be used in a criminal profile, that once again is available on social media. What you are reading, for example can give the great insight into how you think, what you think about, and what your hidden interests may be, even though you don't post about them online. He even points out that a lot of this information can be used in court. He briefly outlined one instance in which there was an alcohol related accident, but there was no blood draw at the time of the accident. The defendant said he was sober, however the prosecution mounted an attack on his character based on the posts from all his friends on Facebook talking about how he was always drunk, and bragging about various alcohol-induced escapades. Technically, that would be circumstantial evidence, and couldn't be used for a conviction legally, but somehow, just putting that information in front of the jury is enough to close the book on the case.

Circumstantial or not, however, the information is relevant enough to the government that there was a huge scandal in 2009, when MI6 Chief of Security, Sir john Sawers, became compromised on a family vacation. Not because he was recognized, but because his wife posted personal information about the family on Facebook without checking privacy settings. Anybody who visited the site could have gotten information about Sawers address, who has children were, and so forth. Not too terribly secret for an intelligence agency.

Perhaps the most subtle point in Rambam's presentation was also one of the most foreboding. He points out that in the eyes of advertisers, as well as courts, you are your friends. This sort of thinking leads to things like guilt by association, and most importantly gives us undue reason to reconsider who we associate with. The best way to expand our minds is to associate with people who think differently than we do. By having our own ideas challenged, we learn critical thinking and discover what is truly important to us, as opposed to just following the party line. From a sociological standpoint, this is a cornerstone to how we mature as a species as well as on an individual level. Those who are privacy minded may very well find themselves cloistered in a box they cannot escape, for no other reason than the fact that they never challenge what they think.

Although Rambam's lecture touches on concepts that are crucial in the world of identity theft, the underlying social commentary seems to be as simple as the title of this article: we have willingly and freely given away our privacy, and there is not much left that we can really do about it.

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