In-depth report on privacy

August 25, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

This week will be full of posts on privacy, so if you’re not concerned about threats to your civil liberties…well, you’d best keep your head buried in the sand.

Scientific American has a fabulous in-depth report on privacy and security. Of particular interest to me was the article, How I Stole Someone’s Identity. ThinkingShift reader, Andrew Mitchell, recently sent a link to an article about our paradoxical attitudes towards privacy. Carnegie Mellon behavioural economist, George Lowenstein, has been researching into why it seems we don’t mind divulging personal details on social networks or happily have tracking devices like mobile phones or GPS navigators. Yet, if Google StreetView or Google Maps were to be right outside our front door snapping pictures of our house, we’d probably carry on about trespass of private property and invasion of privacy (well, I sure would!).

So why do we share so much personal stuff online? In one experiment, Lowenstein and his researchers, gave college students a survey, which asked them if they had engaged in wayward or illegal activities. One group was told that any information revealed would not be divulged, the other group was not given that reassurance. Despite the strong assurance of confidentiality, only 25% in the first group of students admitted to some funny business; whilst over 50% of the second group owned up to some wrong doing.

So the notion that a strong assurance of confidentiality will relax people to the point they cough up personal info is not borne out. One of the conclusions drawn from the research is: “Creating an informal online atmosphere, it seems, encourages self-revelation, even though an unprofessional site is probably more likely to pose a privacy problem than an elaborate, professional one”.

And so, we leave bread crumbs all over the place and it seems it’s relatively easy to gather these crumbs and steal someone’s identity. For the SciAm article, the author wanted to test just how easy it is. He asked acquaintances and some people he knows casually for permission to break into their online bank accounts. No hacking was involved. The author mined the internet for golden nuggets of personal data. In one case, his “victim” was a friend of his wife – “Kim” (no, not me!). He found her blog, which gave away stuff like pets’ names, grandparents’ names, home city and so on (mmmm…..better watch how much I say from now on!!). He found her resume online and email address.

You can read for yourself how he put all the bread crumbs together and just how easy it was to break into Kim’s online banking account. Yikes, I’m having nightmares!

Then you can go on to read how the internet his helping terrorists and criminals. Other articles you should take time to read are:

Also, check out the international report on the effects technology is having on privacy in China, Japan, the Middle East and the UK.

PS it’s Privacy Awareness Week. Privacy Awareness Week is an annual promotion by the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities (APPA) group. APPA members participating in PAW 2008 are; Australia (including New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory), Canada (including British Columbia), Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Go here and take a quiz to find out if you are aware of what is or is not protected by privacy principles.

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Entry filed under: Biometric identification, Privacy, RFID, Surveillance society, Useful resources. Tags: .

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