Over the long winter break, I began thinking and learning about digital privacy and security. After being exposed to the surface-level issues of corporate data-mining, social engineering, and personal digital privacy, I decided that one of my goals for this term would be to deepen my understanding of how privacy works in the digital world, and more broadly just in modern life.
You don’t have to look too far to find guides written by obsessive, privacy-minded techies with titles like “Hiding from the Internet.” There are people out there who will go to extremes to be completely concealed from the public eye, going so far as to buy cars with cash through fake LLCs, using temporary, preloaded visa gift cards for purchases, and never giving out their home address to anybody. On the other end of the spectrum are people who will happily trade privacy for convenience, who enjoy the luxury of services provided by Google, Amazon, and others, who don’t care that “their data” (whatever that may mean) is being stored in the elusive “cloud” and is being sold by companies to each other so that you see personalized ads.
Privacy seems like something that is intuitively desirable, and obviously provides some measures of personal security. On the other hand, barring instances of targeted attacks, there is certainly a case to be made from the “I don’t care” point of view — it could well be worth the potentially painless loss of privacy for some people to have access to all the free services, discounts, and other conveniences made available to us when we buy in to the system. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who don’t have the privileges (be it lack of time, money, or freedom in the workplace) to pursue complete digital privacy. What happens to them? What are the implications?
This term I hope to investigate this area, learn about how our data is being used in the public and corporate sphere, and determine how much control we have over it. With a thorough understanding of the business models, cultures, and processes in place that contribute to the widespread privacy violations we see today, I will be able to critically assess the risks and advantages associated with different personal privacy strategies.