Privacy in tech is growing into a pressing issue. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the risk of data breaches and inappropriate use of personal data has become obvious even to those who hadn’t ever considered the need for privacy before. People are rightfully concerned with how their information is stored and handled by the companies who manage it. Despite the attempt at regulation, it’s not even clear anymore who really owns this data in practice. Let’s have a look at 10 of the most thought-provoking quotes about tech privacy that can help us put everything in perspective.
Teenagers and Privacy
“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.” – Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable
This quote is extremely interesting since it focuses on one atrocious aspect of the digital age we live in: Anything stupid that you do is now eternal because of the internet. Sexting rings are one such example – places where nude pictures of teenage girls are shared among countless boys who keep them as trophies. Eventually those girls will become women, and, other than just their self-esteem, their professional careers may be ruined forever.
This issue is just getting worse day after day. Almost all teenagers feel the irresistible urge to share everything they do on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and any other public channel possible. It’s normal to feel like a superstar when you’re a kid, but you should not live with the consequences of your own natural immaturity for the rest of your life. Adults have the duty to protect adolescents from having their entire lives ruined because of a mistake. (For more on internet privacy, see Internet Browsing and Security - Is Online Privacy Just a Myth?)
Accessing Other People’s Information
“Getting information from the Internet is like taking a drink from a hydrant.” – Personal Computing Pioneer and Investor Mitchell Kapor
How immensely easy is to find information on a person from the internet? Even the European GDPR looks like a band-aid on a gaping wound right now. All this info is already leaking out everywhere, especially after so many large databases have been breached (LinkedIn, Yahoo, Dropbox, JP Morgan, Twitter), and billions of personal accounts have been violated.
Looks like it is a bit too late to “fix things” now, yet we need to establish clearer rules and higher standards of protections for future generations. Because the world is not going to end tomorrow, even if 2004 (the year when Facebook was launched) really looks like it was yesterday.
The War Against Privacy
“EveryISP is being attacked, maliciously both from in the United States and outside of the United States, by those who want to invade people’s privacy. But more importantly they want to take control of computers, they want to hack them, they want to steal information.” – Darrell Issa, American Politician
Russia, China and many African countries employed massive online manipulation tactics to establish their regimes. But that’s not news. Something that is less known, however, is that China is “training” many third-world countries in prying into their citizens’ privacy by hosting several conferences, seminars and training on how to monitor and handle negative public opinion. In order to “maintain public order,” several not-so-liberal governments such as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon bought Chinese AI-powered surveillance tools. Tools and systems that allegedly sent back information to Shanghai servers for years in secret.
And when it is a known fact that a lot of “mysterious entities” are also enrolling a lot of computing power for other undisclosed reasons, there’s no need to further explain how dire and alarming the situation may look.
Who Should Protect Our Privacy?
“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” – John Perry Barlow, cyberlibertarian, political activist and founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
You’re not being paranoid. The U.S. and U.K. government really spied on their citizens. For years. The right to privacy is breached on a regular basis on the assumption that authorities are steal… I mean, accessing public information in order to “collect taxes, protect public health and regulate financial services.” The mass surveillance programs are so pervasive, that recently the European Court of Human Rights ruled they were violating human rights and the right to freedom of expression.
So, things are going to change for the better now, right? Well, not so much. Back in 2016, the European Court of Justice ruled that collecting communications could only be justified to investigate serious crime. However, two years later, the same court changed its mind and ruled that national law enforcement authorities had the liberty to pry into individuals’ personal information even for minor crimes whenever such data-gathering does not seriously infringe their privacy rights. Can someone define what “seriously” means here? Please?
Do We Deserve Privacy?
“Privacy is not something that I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite.” – Marlon Brando, Actor
Sure, our privacy must be protected at all costs. But what if we do everything in our power to spread our own private information across the world voluntarily? In the age of Instagram and Facebook, we do everything we can to negate our privacy and tell people everything we do, from eating to sleeping, traveling and even having sex.
A lot of people seem happy to let random strangers track their location at all times and know exactly what they’re doing, what they like and the people they meet. Can security and laws really do something to protect people’s privacy, when everyone is actively providing so much unnecessary information about his or her personal life to everybody out there?
We Can Never Let Our Guard Down
“If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.” – Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO
The responsibility of protecting our privacy isn’t just something that should be left to companies or governments. It’s a personal duty, as much as we cannot count on police forces alone to protect our house, our assets, and our family. We need to lock our doors, install home alarms, and keep our windows closed when we’re out.
The importance of properly securing one’s own device is often underestimated, however. How many people don’t even have a proper antivirus installed on their computers? How many old, easily accessible and insecure passwords exist out there?
Removing Former Employees’ Access
“This is the only country in the world where today's employee, is tomorrow's employer.” – Marco Rubio, American politician and attorney
Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Well, except for the fact that tomorrow’s employer may become a competitor of yesterday’s employer, and still have access to his former company’s data. Customer data is very frequently shared with SaaS providers, and employees might unknowingly grant access to corporate and private data. Even the simplest videoconferencing tool might require access to users’ contacts and calendars, which can include sensitive data such as customer information.
All organizations are exposed to significant, yet unexpected vulnerabilities every time an employee leaves the company. In fact, a lot of tremendous hacks that occurred in 2017 and 2018 were due to former employees who still had some form of access to the system. IT departments need easier ways to track which SaaS tools are in use by whom and make sure all the private data of former employees is deleted when they leave the company.
The Economic Value of Privacy
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon.com
Private info can be sold, but once someone pays for it, it cannot be bought back. The current tentative attempts at curbing the problem of internet privacy didn’t provide a definitive answer that could make people feel safer. In retrospect, many criticized the European GDPR as a half-baked approach that failed to protect individual rights, and may even undermine freedom of information in the process. (For more on GDPR, see How Cybercriminals Use GDPR as Leverage to Extort Companies.)
The self-regulatory potential of the free market, however, may provide a possible solution. Customers across all industries demand their personal information to be handled with the highest standards. Companies and organizations are starting to understand how much their assets are endangered if they cannot provide their customers with sufficient reassurance.
Is Collecting People’s Data Really a Bad Thing?
“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain language, and repeatedly. I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more than other people do. Ask them.” – Steve Jobs, Entrepreneur
Collecting data for marketing purposes is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done in an ethical and straightforward way. Everybody enjoys the many benefits of targeted ads nowadays.
It is much better to be informed about all the products we want and the trends we care for, than being overwhelmed by a massive amount of spammy and non-relevant ads. Without the info that we agreed to exchange with them, countless extremely useful online services and apps could not exist at all. Companies need our data to offer us a better service, after all, and get all the feedback they need to improve their products.
Privacy and Medicine – How Can We Save More Lives with Less Privacy?
“Privacy with medical information is a fallacy. If everyone’s information is out there, it’s part of the collective.” – Craig Venter, Biologist
Some information must be exchanged for the sake of progress and to make the world a better place. Medical information, for example, shouldn’t be kept private. As Craig Venter explained, being able to share medical info immediately and without unnecessary filters may save a lot of human beings as it will speed up research.
In many emergency situations such as epidemics or uncontrollable contagions, there’s no time to bother with clunky privacy policies and cumbersome systems. There’s a plethora of information regarding a patient’s diagnosis, symptoms, and state of health which should be shared immediately with no need to disclose unnecessary personal or sensitive information (name, address, etc.).