← Chetan Surpur

A Curious Breach Of Privacy

I got this email from a friend today.

this is unbelievable. im taking this class about the legal implications of the drug trade, and what we did today was to bring in a bunch of trash bags and examine the contents, to see what people throw away or leave behind. at the end of the investigation heres what we know:

1) the family is three people, a husband, a wife, and a son 2) we know the names 3) they have a cat 4) we know their bank account number, and username and password for multiple email addresses, and the wellsfargo account itself 5) we have their credit card number 6) we know they are heavy drinkers, and they prefer vodka 7) we have knowledge of specific days that they are planning to take a vacation 8) we have the names of extended family members, and the gifts they plan to buy for them

im tripping out how much you can get from two bags of garbage for one family in newport

Crazy, right? But even if you go out and burn all of your trash today, you can’t stop the steady leak of information that is telling someone out there that you’re thinking of buying a digital photo frame for your mother-in-law for Christmas. In fact, you’re the biggest cause for this breach of privacy.

Security is an illusion, privacy doubly so

The paranoid and security-aware among you already know this, but let me tell all of you others plainly and clearly - there is no such thing as perfect practical security. The services we take for granted and trust our secrets to are too complex to not have any holes, and brilliant hackers will always find ways to break the system.

Lisbeth Salander As long as people like this exist, your life is an open book.

People don’t need access to your garbage to uncover details about your (especially digital) life. There are other, easier ways, and there’s nothing you can do to guarantee that every bit of it will be safe from prying eyes.

That doesn’t mean you should lose all hope, though. If you throw your bank statements whole into the recycling bin, start shredding that shit. If you repeat passwords across important online accounts, change them, you moron. While you can’t guarantee that your security can never be compromised, you can at least make it difficult for those slithery assholes trying to steal your credit card numbers.

But when it comes to privacy, we’re all already fucked.

The Google Phenomenon

Even though you hear people constantly bitching about companies stealing their privacy, there’s one company out there that everyone is willingly telling their entire life’s stories to, day by day. They know when your next dentist appointment is, they know that you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, and even though you haven’t even told your friends that you’re trying to have a baby, they know.

But you don’t care, because you get to search the Internet for free.

They know everything about you. And those bastards are rubbing it in your face.

You think it’s just them? Ever thought about what chain grocery stores do with your purchase history? They sell it to companies who make care about consumer purchase data. If you use a credit card, someone out there knows how much vodka you buy every week.

Transparency is where it’s at

The reason you don’t care too much about trading your privacy for free Internet search or an awesome email service is because you don’t care if some faceless Google employee knows tidbits about you. However, if a Safeway cashier came and told your parents exactly how much vodka you drink every day, you probably wouldn’t be too happy.

Safeway asshole Just give me one more reason to punch your face in.

So it seems that we don’t care about random people having our data. We care about which people have our data.

As the world gets closer and closer with the long threads of the Internet connecting more people together, there will be less and less privacy to go around. It’s gonna be (and already is) unreasonable to ask for complete privacy, especially if you want to use convenient services and products for free.

So instead of worrying about privacy, we should start worrying about transparency. We need the people to whom we have to give up our personal information to state clearly how they’re going to use it. As long as we know who has our data and what they’re doing with it, life will continue to be good.

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own. Benjamin Disraeli