Privacy in a Digital Age

As the clip above from South Park illustrates, we’re a society that freely shares a lot of our information publicly while (occasionally) pointing out that we should be entitled to a certain amount of privacy. Whether snooping is being done by governments, corporations, or individual hackers (or all of the above), there is a wealth of information out there about each and every one of us, beyond what we share publicly on Foursquare or Twitter, and your digital footprint can say a lot about you.

Many advertising data providers already have information on you that they acquired by tracking your credit card purchases at Target, shopping patterns at Nordstrom, your answers to a question on a dating site, or where you were a certain day based on automatic license plate readers or where your cell phone location was. There are many ways we’ve lost our rights to privacy in the name of security, but rather than wax helplessly, there are some things we may do in order to keep our information more secure. As Mikko Hypponen points out in his Ted talk, one logical solution is to choose to use open source software.

Secure Email:

The above is a trailer for “Terms and Conditions May Apply”, a new documentary by Cullen Hoback about the state of our online police state. As their website ( ) says, “In a world with no privacy, people’s data gets mined and sold by companies. In a world with no privacy, law abiding citizens become suspects of the government. In a world with no privacy, low-income people face economic discrimination and advocates for free speech get their emails wiretapped.” You can view the full documentary online for four dollars here and see their AMA on Reddit here.

When you agree to the terms and conditions for new Apple software, or to sign up for Gmail or Facebook you are giving a third party rights that until the advent of the internet would have seemed preposterous. There are a number of possible solutions to this problem, one of which was a provider called Lavabit, the email service Edward Snowden used. Lavabit suspended its operations in August in defiance of the federal government and has since been embroiled in a legal battle. Ladar Levison, the site’s creator, has also launched a Kickstarter campaign that still has a few days left to make an open-source version of Lavabit happen.

Secure Cloud Storage, Search & the Rest

As with email, the future of search and cloud computing will have to start drifting in a more secure direction than has been standard in the past. CRN has a list here with their top five most secure enterprise cloud apps, and Lifehacker has a list of their own here. Obviously the most secure way to store your files would not be to put them in the cloud at all, but the convenience of cloud computing makes it seem like an inevitability that almost everything will be in the cloud eventually.

As far as search goes, has made a clear point for several years that they don’t track searches, and Google says they don’t track your searches if you’re logged in (unless you click on an ad). I like the idea of all the meta-data being collected being made public, and being able to limit what my grocery store loyalty card shares with advertisers. Certainly, we could at least do with more transparency. I personally tweet and check in on Foursquare and share a lot of information publicly, but even just a hint of anonymity can be refreshing and reassuring. But, as the Cable Guy said, “the future is now” and all we can do is help shape it the best we can.