What Right Can We Expect to Privacy in the Digital Age?

October 3rd, 2014

By Naomi Dolin-Aubertin

Celebrity photo hacks, corporate data breaches; it begs the question, what right can we expect to privacy in the digital age?

While it appears, hopefully, that many credit card companies are now looking at changing the way they process card payments -- essentially forcing retailers to update inherently flawed card readers and point of sale systems responsible for recent breaches at Target and Home Depot -- that does not account for the increasing number of digital hacks. The latest announcement from a Time.com headline read: "JPMorgan Says 76 Million Households Hit by Cyberbreach." Later in the article they elaborated that this included an addition 7 million small businesses. "'There is no evidence that account information for such affected customers — account numbers, passwords, user IDs, dates of birth or Social Security numbers — was compromised during this attack,' JPMorgan Chase said." 


The internet is constructed like a wild Western town, on vigilante justice, patchy code, and outlawish trolls and hackers living by their own rules. The Heartbleed bug targeted a flaw in Open SSL (the foundation upon which much of the internet rests like an elephant on a rotting bridge). The Bash Bug allowed hackers to get into computers and servers, with the same level of severity as Heartbleed. There is plenty of room out there for the malicious or simply bored to exploit these and other vulnerabilities. But instead of robbing banks, trains, and unfortunate travelers of their money and valuables, what's at stake here are entire identities, both the digital and real lives of individuals. 


But what can we, as consumers, individuals, and employees, expect for privacy in this day of constant connectivity? I've read about several products this week that are aimed at creating privacy where we might or might not already have expected to have it. A company called Vysk makes an iPhone case and app designed to protect against phone data hacking. There's another product, Snapchat IRL, which creates a flash of light whenever someone tried to snap a candid of you, harkening back to the days when a crazy, stupid, I-can't-believe-I-did-that moment, stays in the moment and doesn't become part of your digital footprint. 


Employers, privacy groups, workers, and governments are in the process of defining what rights employees have when they use their personal devices for work, what information is fundamentally protected (and additionally, who pays for the use of those devices on work time). There is an additional ethical debate surrounding tracking software such as ComputerCop, essentially marketed to parents to oversee their children's use of the internet in the name of safety. Products like these and others open the door to cyberstalking and invasion of privacy on a grand scale. 


I don't have an answer to the question. I think as digital citizens, we must engage in a conversation on privacy and security issues. We must do so not only to protect our own data, identities, and digital privacy rights, but also to define what privacy means and how we will protect it in the future. 


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