We have no data privacy anyway – so should we just get over it?

by | Jul 21, 2015

16 years ago Scott McNealy famously quipped to the media “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it”. The incident that lead up to that quote has always stuck with me, for the most part because he was one of my former business hero’s (yes Sun failed, yes he sold to Larry for not enough cash but….still very cool) and it was the first time I really took an interest in Data Privacy as a topic.
In 1999 all we in IT really cared about was the looming Y2K “event” (the one that never happened). For the most part we still operated our on-premise private data centres, every project bought it’s own server and the biggest data privacy challenges tended to be internal to a given company. Oracle had implemented encrypted columns to keep those pesky DBA’s from seeing salary information but in my world Privacy breaches as we know them today didn’t really exist beyond the occasional briefcase or file left on a bus or park bench.
Since 1999 our individual and collective data footprints have exploded, we have all seen the amazing internet in a minute Infographics – this recent article The Zetabyte Era expands one of these Infographics with insight to provide further perspective. This graphic was compiled in 2013 so these figures will have grown again since, I’m sure you can relate to some of them:

  • Every minute 72 hours of videos are uploaded to Youtube
  • 204 million emails are sent
  • Google receives over 4 million search queries
  • Facebook users share close to 2.5 million pieces of content
  • Over 300,000 photos are being shared through whatsapp
  • Tinder users swipe more than 416,667 times and so on.

Today with our lives online, emails, conversations, photos, opinions all stored in the cloud we all need to care about personal data privacy – or do we just get over it?

The risks are very real

This week the hacking of Ashley Madison’s database of 37 million (potentially) adulterous clients has brought the subject of data security back into the spotlight. In the context of privacy it doesn’t appear that Ashley Madison were selling or mashing up their customer database at all, the issue is a plain and simple security one – they promised security and someone hacked their site to extract personal details. To quote their parent companies media release:

“We have always had the confidentiality of our customers’ information foremost in our minds, and have had stringent security measures in place, including working with leading IT vendors from around the world.  As other companies have experienced, these security measures have unfortunately not prevented this attack to our system.”

The hackers appear to be trying to cash in now exposing the real truth of this data privacy situation – no matter the intentions the risk of disclosure of personal data is very real, whether that disclosure was intentional for gain on the part of the company you entrusted, via selling your data to another party; or unintentional as in this case the risk is always present.

Not quite time to get over it – it’s time to become informed

It’s been a few weeks since I embarked on this data privacy research quest. The reaction, including offers of examples and links to ‘bad’ data privacy experiences after publishing “Is Our Personal Data Really Private” (the first short instalment in this series) was impressive – thanks social media world for your engagement and enthusiastic interest.
While we are all quick to point out any ‘bad’ data privacy experiences I am confident there will be ethical companies out there with ‘good’ data privacy practises so plan to hunt these down and provide a balanced view alongside what to look out for when subscribing to a new service and handing our personal data over.
While this blog series is focused on data privacy I couldn’t help but think about those hackers, privacy wise – Could we take control of and be cashing in on our own personal data? More food for thought to come on that too. Happy sharing Vic.

 data-cartoon

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