As more and more of our lives becomes fully integrated with technology and internet connected tools, privacy becomes more important and more controversial. It’s important to consider the privacy implications of using certain tools, and deciding if it does enough to keep your data private. There have been a number of high profile data breaches in the past few years and each seems to come as a shock, even though companies collecting your data have to disclose that they’re doing so. These quotes are from some of the most influential minds in the tech and privacy sectors, and will make you reconsider your approach to internet privacy.
“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.” -Tim Cook
There are too many companies collecting people’s information for marketing purposes, that people feel like there’s nothing they can do. The companies collecting the most user data happen to be the largest and most recognizable names in tech. People are willing to trust these companies with their data, even if it’s not in their best interest. Apple has maintained a strong public stance on privacy as other companies come under fire.
“Every ISP 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
If a hacker were able to crack into an ISP, they could potentially monitor internet activity for all of that service provider’s users. Their end goal is primarily to access information that they can use to make money. These types of threats could come from an individual, or a group of hackers looking to further their business interests.
“I really believe that we don’t have to make a trade-off between security and privacy. I think technology gives us the ability to have both.” -John Poindexter
It’s interesting that even as technology has advanced to its current level, many of the top companies fail to adapt to privacy concerns expressed by their user bases. The same innovation that created Facebook, Google and Amazon could be applied to making these products both user-friendly and privacy-friendly.
“If someone steals your password, you can change it. But if someone steals your thumbprint, you can’t get a new thumb. The failure modes are very different.” -Bruce Schneier
Security expert Bruce Schneier explains one of his biggest concerns with using biometric information as an authentication measure. While something like a password can be changed, if biometric information can be mimicked or hacked, it’s impossible to change that information.
“It used to be expensive to make things public and cheap to make them private. Now it’s expensive to make things private and cheap to make them public.” -Clay Shirky
People have become so comfortable sharing their information with their friends, websites they visit, and businesses that it’s easier to find things out about people than ever. Prior to the age of mass sharing on social media, people’s lives were “private” by default. It was much easier to keep certain aspects of your life private.
“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” -John Perry Barlow
There has been a lot of conversation about how to best control tech companies and the massive power they’ve amassed. John Perry Barlow makes a good point that the government solving our privacy issues is a long shot. In the U.S. specifically, the government has many different agencies that are focused on monitoring citizens in the interest of national security. For the government, having platforms like Facebook and Google making people comfortable with sharing their data makes surveillance much easier.
“Taking privacy cues from the federal government is – to say the least – ironic, considering today’s Orwellian level of surveillance. At virtually any given time outside of one’s own home, an American citizen can reasonably assume his movements and actions are being monitored by something, by somebody, somewhere.” -Bob Barr
Government surveillance is concerning because if it becomes “normal”, any reasonable expectation of privacy a person may have will be lost. The other worrisome form of surveillance comes from private businesses like Google. For example, if you use an Android device, you’re likely sharing your location data with Google at all times. The scary thing is that while government agencies may not have access to your devices, they may have access to any of the data that these companies store on their servers. Anyone could access your data through a subpoena, if they can prove that them accessing your data is relevant and necessary to a legal case.
“The bigger the network, the harder it is to leave. Many users find it too daunting to start afresh on a new site, so they quietly consent to Facebook’s privacy bullying.” -Evgeny Morozov
Morozov explains how the network effects of social media and other tools keep users around. Even as news broke about Facebook’s lack of concern for people’s data privacy, the majority of Facebook users remained active. People feel like Facebook is their only choice for connecting with their friends, because that’s the social network that their friends use. The alternative is a privacy-focused social network that undoubtedly has a minor fraction of the users Facebook has.
“The fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.” -Earl Warren
Because the majority of our communication now happens in a digital format, there are more records of our interactions than ever. Prior to this shift, there was information about who sent a message, the contents of the message and finally who received the message. Now there is metadata associated with many of our communication channels that reveal who you are, where you are, which device you’re using, what network you’re on and other potentially sensitive information.
“We demand privacy, yet we glorify those that break into computers.” -Bill McCollum
It is interesting that people generally want more privacy when it comes to internet services, but are also fascinated the idea of a “hacker” cracking into different computer systems. People think that a hacker accessing data from a big server is exciting and fascinating, yet the effects of this
“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” -David Brin
This argument parallels the privacy versus security discussion. People want everyone else to have no privacy, in order to preserve their own sense of security. However, not many people are willing to sacrifice their own privacy.
“Whether it’s Facebook or Google or the other companies, that basic principle that users should be able to see and control information about them that they themselves have revealed to the companies is not baked into how the companies work. But it’s bigger than privacy. Privacy is about what you’re willing to reveal about yourself.” -Eli Pariser
People are demanding that Facebook, Google and other platforms give them privacy, but it’s an even bigger issue than that. For the most part, big companies like Google and Facebook offer very little transparency into the data they collect and how they do so. People should be given control over which information the company can collect and use.
“You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else’s mail is a felony but your internet activity is fair game for data collecting.” -E.A. Bucchianeri
It’s so strange that letters sent in the mail have such strict laws protecting the privacy of the contents of those letters, but the internet has next to nothing. Messages sent on the internet, for the most part, can be assumed to be accessible by the platform you use to send them. Governing the internet has proved to be extremely complex and difficult for legislators.
“If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.” -Philip Zimmermann
There are a few countries in the world that have moved towards outlawing encryption and other privacy technology. Their motivation is typically to make it more difficult for criminals or terrorists to operate in private. However, making privacy efforts illegal will leave normal people powerless against a government that knows everything about them, while criminal organizations will continue to operate covertly.
“Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make trade-offs between privacy and security. We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it.” -Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO explains that people shouldn’t have to make sacrifices in exchange for privacy. It’s encouraging that one of the largest companies in the world is taking privacy seriously, and putting it into practice in a user-friendly way. People have been sold the idea that to get the most out of technology, as far as customization and convenience go, they have to give up their privacy.
“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
Steve Jobs was likely a big reason that Apple has been so focused on incorporating privacy into their products and services. Jobs’ explanation of privacy is quite simple, even as people still struggle to define what privacy really means. He explains that he thinks people are capable of judging for themselves which information they share.