This Thanksgiving, Be Thankful For Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Privacy
The debate is raging over whether privacy is dead. But data security and privacy is what you make of it.
- By Tyler Reguly
- Nov 27, 2019
This week, my American friends are celebrating Thanksgiving. In Canada, we celebrated last month, but the holidays are similar – involving turkey and family. A common tradition in both countries is to say what you are thankful for and, since I have this wonderful platform to do so, I thought I’d share.
I’m thankful for my wife and family, for my nieces and nephew, including my new niece, Julia, and for passion that keeps the day entertaining like comic book collecting and video games like EVE Online. I’m also thankful that I’ve realized that privacy is dead.
Now, I realize that is going to be a bold and controversial statement, but there are a few things that have led me to this conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are still people working hard to maintain the bit of privacy we have left. I think that there is some good work being done. I just don’t know that it is enough in our social media-driven world. We live in a world where one wrong tweet or Facebook comment can ruin your life. We live in a world where people end friendships over political views and sports commentators. We live in a world where we walk on egg shells because someone, somewhere is going to disagree with what we said. At that point, your privacy goes out the window.
Society seems to think that it is fair game to dox people, harass their employers, and make every detail of their life and the lives of their family public. It is scary, tricky water to navigate and it’s not even the most frightening aspect of our society and the invasion of privacy we all accept. After all, that’s social media, we’re actively putting ourselves out there for the world to judge us, we’ve created the digital version of Big Brother.
The more frightening aspect of our lives is the access we give to corporations. The other day my physiotherapist used a Theragun on me. After my appointment, I came home and Googled the device to learn more about it. I searched with Google on my desktop, but now the Facebook app on my iPhone is advertising the Theragun to me. I picked up the new Audible show 64th Man starring John Cena, which was well worth the listen, and I started getting ads for books on Audible. The tracking and correlation of data is being done in ways that I don’t think any of us ever considered.
The past week, Facebook has been filled with posts complaining about auto-tagging posted photos. One of these posts was actually the inspiration for this article. A friend and industry colleague made the comment that this is the end of privacy, while others argued with him and said that privacy is in a better place because of regulations. Ultimately, I agreed with him and decided to write about it.
It also doesn’t hurt that a recent episode of NCIS: LA featured home security devices provided by an employer that were also designed to spy on their employees, something that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem so farfetched. How many times have we seen reports of employees accessing customer emails or watching video feeds from customer devices? In other video-related news, I recently saw a cat toy on Kickstarter that included facial recognition. That feels like overkill.
Paul Vixie, the Godfather of DNS, recently tweeted out a screenshot of his Mozilla Firefox uninstall. Mozilla has decided with DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) that they know better than consumers on who should see their DNS queries and that, more specifically, Cloudflare should see your queries. For those that don’t know, DNS is the system that translates domain names (like www.tripwire.com) into IP Addresses (like 220.127.116.11). Some people use public DNS servers like Cloudflare or Google, others use those provided by their ISP, and some run their own. Mozilla has decided that Cloudflare is what everyone should use and many, including Mr. Vixie, have decided that this isn’t acceptable. The new default setting puts your personal browsing data in the hands of a private corporation.
One thing I often hear, especially when we’re at our Tripwire IoT Hack Lab at conferences, is that I must stay away from digital assistants because they are such a privacy violation. I laugh when I hear this. I have 5 Echoes and a Google Home in my apartment, as well as Siri enabled on all my tvOS and iOS devices. Sure, I install a minimal number of apps and I keep the ones I rarely use muted, but they’re listening waiting to answer my questions and set timers for me. This scares people, but some of the people it scares are the same people that check in on Facebook wherever they go and post pictures of everyone they are with.
In the past, I’ve written about cyberstalking and accidental information leakage. This is yet another aspect of privacy. I know someone digitally who mentioned the name of a person they worked with 5 years ago and had previously mentioned the type of work they currently do. In less than 5 minutes, I asked them if their name was X and indeed it was. We pay such close attention to the certain privacy issues (like digital assistants and how Facebook uses our data) that we often forgot about the million ways we and our digital footprint leak our personal information every day.
So what do you do if you are concerned about privacy? It may be that cynics like me believe it is dead, but others are trying to breathe life back into it. Educate yourself on real privacy risks, avoid the meme hype and figure out where the real problems are. Look at local advocacy groups and either donate or volunteer. Look at social media, where you willingly violate your privacy and think about how you may want to make changes within your online communication to mitigate and/or eliminate your own data leakage. I recently saw a B-list celebrity post a photo that made it very clear where they were having dinner, these are the types of posts I would recommend avoiding. You’re probably sharing way more with your public “I’m away on vacation for the next week, so glad to get out of the house” tweet than you are by plugging in an Echo.
At the end of the day, privacy is what you make of it, so be thankful for the privacy you have and thankful there are steps you can take to increase your privacy. You may need to work harder than you should, but at least you can be proactive. Finally, be thankful for that turkey (or tofurky). Those of us in Canada will be fondly remembering our Thanksgiving more than a month ago and wishing we were having the big turkey dinner with you.