The following news story came out the other day .. which serves as the basis for this entry …

Hello, Big Brother: Digital sensors are watching us

As digital privacy is an important (and increasing complicated ) topic, it would be impossible to discuss it in just one blog entry (so expect to see more discussion on this topic in future entries).   This entry is to start the process of privacy awareness, so lets take a closer look at how you can “Keep Pace” with digital privacy !

You can’t control what you can’t control – or can you ?

Unless you become a hermit or choose to wear masks in public, it will be hard (if not impossible) to avoid having your image captured by the growing numbers of security camera’s or public webcam’s.    So while you may not have control over what goes on in public settings you can focus on those things you DO have control over – namely how you “give away” personal information without even realizing it

Privacy isn’t so private anymore

If a stranger came up to you and started detailed questions about your personal life, the odds are you wouldn’t answer them.   And why would you?  There are many reasons why you keep personal information to yourself.

But you do give away personal information all the time and technology assists in that process.   Its just slower and less obvious – consider the following:

  • Credit Cards
  • Loyalty Cards
  • Rewards programs

From the users perspective the value of these “technologies” focuses on financial incentive (cash rewards / discounts) or convenience.    But in exchange for that value, you are giving up small amounts of personal data – which in this case consists of what you have purchased and when (think of it as your buying habits/patterns).

In most cases, this is an acceptable trade-off .   The user receives financial benefit(s) and the retailer receives the benefit of an information store that can be used to deliver products / services that improve the customer experience.

You don’t know what you don’t know

The “privacy journey” takes an interesting turn when you start considering other technologies:

  • Internet search engines
  • Social Networking tools (like Facebook)
  • Location based applications (4Square)
  • Digital Pictures (wait till you hear about this one)

The equation of getting value while giving up personal data is still valid.  Even if you understand what it is you are giving up, you might not understand the possible impact – consider the following:

Internet search engines – When you use a search engine (like Google) you leave behind a history of your search habits.   Read about this case where the defendants search history was used against him ! –   Murder, She Googled ..

Social Networking tools – When you use a service like Facebook, you are encouraged to engage in sharing information with your network of  “friends” (some of whom you probably don’t know that well) and you can unintentionally share information you might not want others to know about.   Consider the impact of this article .. “Facebook: The best way to catch a cheating spouse?”

Location based applications – There are an evolving group of applications  (i.e. foursquare) that allow you to “check in” your current location with a mobile device (such as your phone) which will alert your friends to your current location.   An unintended consequence of using these tools is that you may give away patterns of your movements – or worse – you are telling people you aren’t home !

Digital Pictures – It is common for people to take pictures with their smart phones, and immediately upload the picture to the Facebook or Twitter.    Few people know that mobile phones apply location data  to each picture (called geotagging) and that information can be read by other services to identify where the picture was take.   So if you are on vacation and start taking pictures, people can deduce where you are (or aren’t !)    Read – Digital Photos hide Data !

What are basic ways to start “Keeping Pace” with digital privacy?

The purpose of this entry wasn’t to scare – rather inform.    As technology does provide value it is important to become aware of the possible privacy issues and act accordingly.    For the time being digital privacy is not something you can “set and forget”

To “Keep Pace” remember protecting your digital privacy is ongoing and something you shouldn’t neglect.   Some basic questions to keep asking yourself when you use any technology include:

  • Knowledge – Understand what the service is and the types information it is giving out
  • Scope – Consider who is going to have access to your data
  • Content – “Think twice, publish once” – Understand the information you are about to give up
  • Settings – Understand using any service get familiar with any privacy settings you can turn on / off.

NOTE:  If you are interested in turning off Geotagging – read this article  Turning off Geotagging

To “Keep Pace” with future technologies