2 min read

Privacy is a Thing of the Past

“Three men can keep if a secret, if two are dead” — Benjamin Franklin

Privacy has always been difficult to achieve, even during the time of our founding fathers. Now, the war is over; privacy lost.

In order to live in the modern world, you have no choice but to give up a traditional understanding of privacy. This will bring good things and bad things, but it is unavoidable. Protecting privacy is no longer possible; moving forward, we need to focus on preventing misuse and abuse of personal information.

First why is privacy meaningless? Short of living “off the grid”, you leave a trail of digital information everywhere you go, and even if you are extremely careful, you cannot help but leave breadcrumbs that lead the way to you. For example: Every time you swipe a credit or debit card, your bank knows where you are, and how much you are spending.

Your bank could use this information to analyze what zip codes you go to, determine how often you buy new clothes, and how healthy you eat (groceries vs fast food spending). That could be a little creepy, but it also helps them detect suspicious activity and contact you about fraud on your account before your credit is destroyed.

Even if you keep your information fairly private , your friends may not be as careful. Researchers at MIT have used publicly available information to accurately predict whether a male facebook user is homosexual.

The only way to have privacy is to turn away from the growing computerization of every facet of our lives; use paper money, stay off the internet as a whole, don’t go into any retail store, carry change for pay phones, and stay clear of EZ pass equipped cars and big brand cereal. Could you give up all of that? Is it possible to avoid all those things? Is the downside risk that bad?

What about benefits? We talked about fraud prevention before. Think of the tools on the internet that don’t charge a fee — Facebook for staying connected with a larger group of people than you could otherwise, Yelp for learning about local services, Hulu for free high quality entertainment, youtube for video hosting. Mint for managing your finances. All of these services use your data to provide their service to you, but they also mine and analyze your data in order to turn a proft. Nothing is free: you either pay with money or information, usually both. If you do not take advantage of modern tools (credit and debit cards included), you miss out on incredible opportunities to stay connected, save time, and focus on the important things in your life.

What do we need to watch out for moving forward?

  • Data ownership (the right to end a service and delete your data on file)
  • Information security to protect identity
  • Government and corporate use of information in ways we deem abusive

The last bullet is the most vague, and the most crucial. We know our information is out there, but we need to figure out what are ok ways to use our data (fraud prevention) and what are not (fast food spending leading to higher health insurance premiums?).