Skip to main content

Privacy in the modern times

It seems to me that with the advent of all our social media applications – Facebook, MySpace, twitter, Flickr, Tumblr etc., the ability for us to get our thoughts out there is the easiest it’s ever been. The detail that this provides to people is remarkable. Ad companies use it for focused advertising, other companies use it for various nefarious means and criminals use it to steal our identities. Less insidious I think is that people can know us in a way they never have before. The cost to our privacy seems to be one we’re happy to bear though – the most popular consumer mobile devices have Facebook and the like built in and integrated with everything – messages, photos, GPS locations etc. Our internal thoughts and feelings are now able to externalised quickly and limitlessly. Nine times out of ten this is incredibly boring stuff (let’s face it, we’re not as interesting as we’d like to be), but the fodder for bullies, abuse and misuse is extraordinary. It’s very much like posting a sticky note to the wall at school with your latest thoughts and opening yourself up to complete, uncontrolled scrutiny. We all know how much impact putting yourself out there at school can have. Now we do it on a global scale and it doesn’t seem to be an important thing to consider the value of our private lives.

Never mind the fact that once something gets to the Net it never seems to leave. Those embarrassing moments, which once passed leaving only an uncomfortable memory, now linger – sometimes that moment makes it to Youtube and it can live forever. These little moments, of often excruciating embarrassment now have the potential to harm us forever. One can make injunction to have them removed, a costly and time consuming procedure which often brings even more attention to the moment and so is only a partial remedy. It doesn’t stop people from downloading and keeping these images and movies for ever on their own personal machines. This is even exploited as people do stupid things for attention (and get it). The slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges seems to have morphed into Jackass and our collective intelligence has taken a mighty hit. But back to privacy.

I see the youth of today posting details, photos and information about themselves that as a young person I would never have done (and as an old person am even less likely). The generation older than mine are so recalcitrant about their personal feelings and life it can be like pulling teeth getting any information out of them even under the best and most appropriate of circumstances. It certainly adds to their mystery – another underrated and mostly lost commodity in the world. Whether it’s the endless tweets of a person summing up their thoughts in 160 characters or their barely there clothing, mystery is a lost art. Privacy and mystery are inextricably linked, and we don’t seem to realise that as you give up one, you give up the other. Potential partners or even potential employers can look into what you are doing, often without appropriate context, and make judgements on you and your behaviour without having other critical information, for while we do tend to post a lot of information to the net, most of it requires a certain amount of local knowledge (i.e. you had to be there type thing)

It is incumbent upon IT professionals to help non-technical people navigate this quagmire of what to do. The privacy settings of Facebook (for example) are not clear cut and there have been many times I’ve seen a profile completely exposed to all and sundry – birthdate, address, phone etc. – everything the budding identify thief needs to acquire and then sell your identity with. We need to help people understand what they can and should share to the world. There is a vulnerability to such openness and most lay people don’t understand the potential for harm. IT professionals have an obligation therefore to protect people from their potential loss through education and technical assistance. If you consider your current visibility on the Internet – where are you vulnerable?


Popular posts from this blog

Plone - the open source Content Management System - a review

One of my clients, a non-profit, has a lot of files on it's clients. They need a way to digitally store these files, securely and with availability for certain people. They also need these files to expire and be deleted after a given length of time - usually about 7 years. These were the parameters I was given to search for a Document Management System (DMS) or more commonly a Content Management System (CMS). There are quite a lot of them, but most are designed for front facing information delivery - that is, to write something, put it up for review, have it reviewed and then published. We do not want this data published ever - and some CMS's make that a bit tricky to manage. So at the end of the day, I looked into several CMS systems that looked like they could be useful. The first one to be reviewed was OpenKM ( ). It looked OK, was open source which is preferable and seemed to have solid security and publishing options. Backing up the database and upgradin

Musings on System Administration

I was reading an article discussing forensic preparation for computer systems. Some of the stuff in there I knew the general theory of, but not the specifics of how to perform. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that Systems Administration is such a vast field. There is no way I can know all of this stuff. I made a list of the software and operating systems I currently manage. They include: - Windows Server 2003, Standard and Enterprise - Exchange 2003 - Windows XP - Windows Vista - Windows 2000 - Ubuntu Linux - OpenSuSE Linux - Mac OSX (10.3 and 10.4) - Solaris 8 - SQL 2005 - Various specialised software for the transport industry I have specific knowledge on some of this, broad knowledge on all of it, and always think "There's so much I *don't* know". It gets a bit down heartening sometimes. For one thing - I have no clue about SQL 2005 and I need to make it work with another bit of software. All complicated and nothing straightforward. Irritating doesn&

Traffic Monitoring using Ubuntu Linux, ntop, iftop and bridging

This is an update of an older post, as the utilities change, so has this concept of a cheap network spike - I use it to troubleshoot network issues, usually between a router and the network to understand what traffic is going where. The concept involves a transparent bridge between two network interface cards, and then looking at that traffic with a variety of tools to determine network traffic specifics. Most recently I used one to determine if a 4MB SDSL connection was saturated or not. It turned out the router was incorrectly configured and the connection had a maximum usage under 100Kb/s (!) At $1600 / month it's probably important to get this right - especially when the client was considering upgrading to a faster (and more expensive) link based on their DSL provider's advice. Hardware requirements: I'm using an old Dell Vostro desktop PC with a dual gigabit NIC in it - low profile and fits into the box nicely. Added a bit of extra RAM and a decent disk and that&