Privacy is like money. It’s something that everyone wants, but only a few know how to really get it. And of those who know how to get (and preserve) it, there are even fewer people with the willpower to do so.
It’s impossible to hide in this digital world. If you don’t post self-incriminating stuff online, your friends will likely do it for you. And they will tag you in it.
But privacy is a lot more than hiding your secret doings and controversial opinions from prospective employers or Facebook-savvy parents. It’s also about protecting personal information like your passwords, credit cards, and social security number.
Even if you don’t post that stuff online yourself (unsurprisingly, lots of people do), companies you provide that information to can get hacked. Believe me, I’m a programmer. Most of us don’t take nearly enough precautions with your personal data like we should. That’s why I’m very thankful I don’t have to shop for insurance at healthcare.gov. That site has the biggest target on its back ever.
There’s even an aspect of privacy that I’ve never thought about: our kids. Lots of parents post pictures of their kids online (me included) but we rarely think about the consequences this might hold. Our children are going to grow up one day and realize that their lives (and every minutiae thereof) have been catalogued and stored by their parents inside the coffers of Facebook and Blogger since the day they were born. Will they accept this as normal? Or will they be angry with us?
At least my baby pictures are stuffed in the attic of my parents’ house where nobody (not even my parents) can find them.
So what’s the right approach to privacy? Should we seek to become digital hermits, abstaining from all social media and requesting our friends that they not post our pictures on Facebook? That would make big group photos awkward.
Should we always shop at brick and mortar stores, never giving any personal information out over the unprotected, wily wires of the internet?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but brick-and-mortar stores can get hacked too. You can’t avoid the internet only, you have to avoid technology altogether. Become a Luddite. Or be recruited by the Men in Black and have your fingerprints erased. Sounds fun.
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for how to protect your privacy. Education can certainly help.
We have to learn that when a friend sends you a random e-mail with a “click here” link in it, someone’s trying to hack you and that’s not your friend. We have to learn that when you suddenly get a friend request from someone on Facebook that you thought you were already friends with, someone’s likely created a duplicate account in your friend’s name and is using their picture. They want to get access to the things on Facebook that you only share with your friends, like your phone number. Or better yet, they want to send you a Facebook message with a “click here” link.
The scams aren’t always about wiring money to Nigeria anymore. They’re more tricky. Like the mysterious phone calls I’ve started getting after taking my car into the dealership and, as is routine, they recorded the current mileage of my car. My manufacturer’s warranty has just run out and, as luck would have it, all of these warranty extender companies have suddenly piqued their interest in my situation! Nice to know we can trust the companies we do business with to not sell our information.
It’s not just your cars, either. Your home address is public record. How much you paid for your house is public record. Someone could park their car outside your house and try to wriggle their way onto your wireless network to spy on your computer activity. Someone could drop a USB drive on your front porch to try and get you to plug it into your computer. Guess what: if you plug it in, they’ve got everything.
Think this is all farfetched? Think again. This is the kind of stuff that private investigators will do if someone pays them a couple hundred bucks to research you. You better hope you never make enemies and that you always pay your debts on time.
I haven’t even mentioned the NSA. I guess I’ll do that in my second to last paragraph in a post about privacy. What’s up with the NSA?
We need to be vigilant and educate ourselves. Always be skeptical. Privacy is a big deal, even if you don’t think you have anything to hide.