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February 19, 2008

Compulsive Disclosure Disorder

Merriam Webster’s defines privacy as “freedom from company, observation, or intrusion.” It defines security as “freedom from danger, fear, or anxiety.” And the focus of this GIO blog entry is the point at which the abuse of the former results in a breach of the latter.

When it comes to personal data, privacy and security are terms that are often used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be. Privacy is about being afforded the decision as to whether you want to make personal information public. It’s a philosophy, a lifestyle choice. On the other hand, security is about protecting that information from harmful agents. It’s about keeping it from the bad guys. It’s about keeping your money, and your person, safe and intact.

Privacy is about deciding which things about you are known. Security is about ensuring those things are not used to harm you.

Perhaps no company embodies this complicated relationship better than Facebook. The wildly popular social networking site is subscribed to by more than 64 million users. On each individual’s profile, you can learn, among other things, their birthday, location, full name, nicknames, friend’s names, spouse’s name, what they look like, what they listen to, what they watch on TV, what they had for dinner, and what they are doing this very second. And that’s just a small sampling of the personal data that is up for grabs on Facebook.com.

That so much personal information is readily available on Facebook.com is a clear indication of the state of privacy in the Internet era. Through online mechanisms, people are more comfortable sharing boatloads of information about themselves, and broadcasting it to anyone that might be stopping by. Sociologists might be led to speculate that society needed this kind of an outlet. We must have all been craving some more disclosure in our lives. The Internet just gave us the means.

The decision to share this information is strictly voluntary. No one forced Facebook members to share their private thoughts with the world. They chose to. But that is not to say that information won’t be used against them. And this is where privacy, or lack thereof, becomes an issue of security.

With a full name, birthday, and location of birth, identity thieves can find all the necessary information they would need to clean out a bank account or book a few dozen air fares on your credit card. And we’ve all seen the television news magazine pieces about online predators and the like.

The consequences of the world divulging information so readily is simple: it heightens the needs for newer, more sophisticated types of security. In revealing so much information about ourselves, we are, in effect, rendering ourselves vulnerable to attack. In the physical world, it is the equivalent of walking through Times Square with a billboard detailing every aspect of our lives.

There is the sense that we have reached a point of no return. People may learn how to be smarter with their digital identities (a colleague just educated me on making my own Facebook profile less tempting to identity thieves…it started with removing my birth date and only allowing friends to view my profile.) But to what extent people will stop sharing information that could be used against them is unknown. My guess is that they won’t. And that means that security against the bad guys is going to have to evolve as fast as the Web 2.0 craze itself.

February 19, 2008 in Security and Society | Permalink


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There is an interesting aspect to the internet security debate, an unspoken assumption, that the web is, or should be monolithic - An enormous open arena in which one simply logs on, and go where they wish. Why is this so? Maybe it is a consequence of the history of the internet's development - A solution created by academics with a common interest and purpose. One of the consequences, however, is the subjective perception that internet security is about fire-walling individual computers, installations, or proprietary networks. This may not be relevant now the way it was 20 years ago!

Of course there are always going to be places in cyberspace analogous to Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Also, a compelling argument can be made that everyone, regardless, should be allowed unrestricted ability to access the web, and participate. As long as individuals have the ability to create internet sites, there will be a steady supply of places where anonymity is protected, and freedom of speech and expression take precedence.

Aside from this, it doesn't seem clear to me that this unrestricted access should be the dominant culture of the web, or that a multi-tiered internet, with different identification requirements for different modes of activity would represent a threat to personal freedom. Maybe as the internet develops, the concept of the firewall will develop and change as well, and lead to a continuum of venues, with different security structures.

As an example, banks are carefully fire-walled, as isolated islands within the web arena. One could imagine that in the future, banks would be accessed by customers through a common kiosk, that has it's own nominal security requirements for entry, creating an entire subspace within the web. What we know now as firewalls will become examples of a principle much more extensible than was originally thought.

Posted by: Tim R. | Apr 14, 2008 10:03:00 PM

Thank you for your very important issue is the disorder on the revelation of identity ... many people are afraid of this and should seek help ....

Posted by: soft cialis | Jun 21, 2010 7:22:14 PM

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