Technology Security

Analysis: Why Privacy on the Web is Dead

What can be better than equal net access for all and a network Privacy Police force patrolling and monitoring the pipes to protect you? Sure equal network access isn’t in your country’s constitution. But it should be! And just because you’re not sure how to act or what to do on the web, that’s not your fault – it’s the government’s!

Equal access should be available to anyone who wants it, but that doesn’t mean everyone deserves a pipe big enough for them to watch live television, download huge clips or stream video on demand to their device. Some cultures remember government police actions and somehow they went astray and the powers were abused. There are rules, there is commonsense and there is a strong degree of group policing on the web that is done by the group and the common good. As someone said, be careful for what you wish for because you just might get it.

"Can’t push him too hard; he might break. You gotta’ remember who you’re dealing with,"
? Steve McCroskey, Airplane (1980), Paramount Pictures

The government has finally proven the saying, "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, hunt it down and kill it!" Back in the sixties, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) had this idea to protect us from them – "them" being the Soviet Union. Information and communications were the keys to survival. Then, in the eighties, they privatized it. In the nineties it became commercial. Today, billions of people and millions of organizations ? good, bad, ugly ? say it’s theirs.

The web as we know it didn’t go back to the government. That’s why the people who have grown up not knowing life without Internet are now being told they need to be protected from "them." It’s this idea that led our government to invent new departments with great sounding names, like Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality and the US Commerce Department’s Privacy Policy Office.

Net Neutrality not working

Now, the Commission has dubious legal rights to lay down new regulations for the fixed wire and wireless net activities. But don’t you dare think for one second that will stop or slow them down. Didn’t the government put the fun back into flying? Imagine what they can do with Net Neutrality and the FCC-proposed "The Basic Rules of the Road." Basically a set of rules that create two classes of Internet access – one for fixed-line providers and the other for wireless folks – they exist to prevent old bullies like Comcast or Qwest from blocking access to sites and applications.

In reality, those rules allow big, established Internet service companies to unfairly pick on the weaker phone companies. Phone people stick repeaters up on poles while wired folks invest in laying miles and miles of fiber cable. Some people have better lobbyists. The weak and struggling wireless folks, however, are being allowed to limit access to services and apps.

Obviously, the sexy technology needs protection so it can build its own economy and infrastructure in order to be able to stand on its own. Government policy makers help you really understand the old saying, "Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups." The government never looked at the bullies infrastructure (which they built) to see if it could handle their weaker siblings.

No speed demon

While the government moves to protect the fledgling wireless network and investments, providers have to expand and upgrade their services. But the government overlooks the investment that wired network providers made in fiber and cable over the years. An equal investment will be needed to keep pace with bandwidth demand. This includes tens of thousands of miles of cable criss-crossing the oceans and the seas of the world. A tremendous US investment will have to be made to keep pace with global leaders.

Source: Akamai

The underdogs ? AT&T and Verizon ? will have the right to "reasonable network management." What that means is they can do what service providers do in other countries – offer paid prioritization and tiered service offerings. As a result, services can pay for faster transmission of data and end-users can choose metered service schedules for calls, data, video, music, etc.

Most folks never notice whether their provider is slowing down the speed of peer-to-peer apps or giving their services more bandwidth. As McCroskey said, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking." Streaming Glee and Lady GaGa’s newest music videos to your phone matters, but you might notice you’re paying for an extra bandwidth needed to accommodate your media needs.

The problem with privacy

The Commerce Department is determined to show the FCC that they are just as interested in protecting people. Their super-responsive Privacy Police is modeled after the Department of Homeland Security rules that govern the use of personally identifiable information.

The key points include:

  • companies need to be transparent about data use
  • organizations should seek individual consent to collect, use, disseminate and maintain their information
  • companies should spell out how data will be used
  • data minimization should be deployed
  • companies should use personal data only for the use disclosed
  • personal data should be secure, accurate and audited

They just figured out that no one really understands those application or site agreements, even if you read them. You just tell people it’s free and they’re there. That’s the way Google – home of the free stuff monetizer – racks up billions in revenue every year. They’re not as outspoken as their nemesis, Facebook. The social network’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, who has gone to great lengths to clean up his image, blurted out what our kids have known for years of living on the web – that privacy on the Internet is basically dead and here’s why.

You’re out there

People are willing to spread their information across the web on this site and that site in exchange for freebies. At the same time, they disagree with site marketers following their activities to offer them new products and services, coupons, etc.

Placing your information on Facebook or tweeting it around makes it tough for the Privacy Police to protect you.

Privacy became real important to the government people when < a target="_blank" href="" id="lcd." title="WikiLeaks">WikiLeaks started throwing out all those dumb notes diplomats were sending back and forth to each other. The cables exposed them as being crafty, sneaky, snide, slippery, two-faced ? you know human ? in their dealings.

As Striker said, "It’s a good thing he doesn’t know how much I hate his guts."

Basically, WikiLeaks is able to get away with it and thrive either because someone is ticked off at someone and wants to make their words public to embarrass them or because someone feels someone isn’t acting in "the public’s interest" and wants to bare their evil doing to the world. We’re not pessimistic, but even our kids realize that they have measured control over their privacy.

Source: Pew Internet & American Life

If you ask people if it’s OK for companies to follow your activities on the web, there is a resounding NO. Ask them if they want these same people to present them with special offers, coupons and enhanced service and it’s a solid YES. Unfortunately, even free costs something. Web users ? especially kids who have grown up with the web ? are more educated about how much of their information is available online and they know how to control it.

Private suggestions and the social scene

While people are increasingly comfortable using the web, they’re also smarter on what information they should make available and when they should opt out. Younger adults have grown up with a healthy skepticism in products and services available around the Internet. Last year, Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that more than 30 percent of all Internet users ages 18 to 64 were worried about the amount of information available about them on the web.

The young crowd takes a more Laissez-faire approach and they’re vigilant about their personal information. Cripes, they share everything on social network sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, be it photos, videos, status updates, life experiences or connections. They also know how to tune their privacy settings to manage access to their information. Our kids know web sites drop cookies on computers that track online preferences and activities.

Creative people have moved beyond cookies to device fingerprinting, tracking signals specific to your laptop or mobile device. Google, Facebook, TwitterAmazonFlickr and thousands of other social sites reap huge databases of personal minutiae they sell to marketers (yes, to governments, too). Their powerful software engines are getting better every day, tirelessly aggregating and analyzing data to understand how you behave and interact with your connected world.

This includes what you watch, what you click, what you don’t click, where you are, who/what you are near, what you buy, what you eat, like/dislike, you name it. The better the job they do, the more relevant the ads, ideas and products they can encourage you to buy. And the more free services they can offer you to deliver even more ads, ideas and products. That’s called free enterprise with a huge emphasis on free, which folks like.

Final thoughts

Of course, bad guys do the same thing. You put enough personal and relationship data out there in tens or hundreds of locations, and they can ultimately find your specific personal identification information. Security folks who are always one step behind cyberthieves agree with Striker, "No, I’ve been nervous lots of times." The Privacy Police says its "Privacy Bill of Rights" will limit data collectors and protect you. Come on, how can you be against that? Brits estimate that everyone in England is captured on camera 300 times a day and governments around the world track online communications internally and externally.

That’s different, however. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take folks tracking me to sell me something over the government ? any government ? tracking me. Seeing what most government departments and agencies do for us, we agree with the controller, "I know, but this guy has no flying experience at all. He’s a menace to himself and everything else in the air… yes, birds too." But maybe the government will get Net Neutrality and privacy right this time around?

Photo Source: Paramount Pictures

Many people get a little frightened when they hear someone say, "Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you." Give some departments an inch and… After all, we now meet really fun, interesting people when you decide to fly today.