In The Digital Age, What Is Privacy?

A few days ago I wrote about LinkedIn and how apparently they know who I email. After that, I began thinking about how much you can learn about a person just by their digital footprint, especially from an intelligence perspective. What’s interesting is just how much data private corporations like Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft know about everyone. So, exactly what kind of things could you figure out just looking at a person’s digital footprint? Let’s think about it…

Your daily travel habits. You know that function “location services”? While it’s cool to show the world that you’re posting something from Thailand, Philadelphia, or China, reviewing your location services history also would allow someone to put together a very accurate profile of where you generally are. Your laptop, and ergo third parties like Apple, know where you are every single day. 

Your interests, including what type of music, hobbies and literature they are into. If you’re like me, maybe you buy a lot of books and music in digital format. It’s easier than carrying stuff around everywhere. However, if someone were putting together a dossier on you, they could compile all the music, books, and games you are into. While we used to listen to tapes CDs, now Spotify broadcasts whatever I listen to all over the internet. 

Your social network. Just by looking at my Facebook page, you can make some obvious connections about me. Grew up in Downingtown, went to Villanova University, and then Temple Law. Looking at my “friends” section, you can put together a very clear picture of the people I associate with and how frequently. In the olden days, the government would have to subpoena your telephone records or conduct surveillance to figure out who you associate with. Today it’s much easier to simply look at who emails are sent to, and who you’re friends with on Facebook. Keep in mind, part of intelligence is being able to see how people are connected. 

Search histories. Google and other search engines retain search engine logs, even if you’ve cleared your browser. So if you’ve looked for something on Google, someone can get access to that. Even though you did it in the privacy of your own home. 

Seemingly “private” conversations on Facebook and in email. Keep in mind that any conversation you have over Facebook, AOL, or whatever is retained for a period of time on their servers. While you might think these are totally private, it wouldn’t be hard to serve a subpoena on Facebook and ask for all your chat records. (So don’t ever Facebook message your lawyer something like “Yo brah, I was so DRUNK last night and I ran over some chick and then I drove away. How much do you charge to get me off?” ). The same goes for emails – they are stored on third party servers and available for the taking, even though you thought they were completely private.  

If you’re someone who lives a great deal of their life on the internet, it would be easy to compile a very accurate dossier on you with the click of a button. While the cloud has made life easier, and social media has made it easier to connect with people, it’s also created a situation where information which was now private is now readily available to anyone who wants it.

Do I think the government cares about the fact that I watch Falling Skies, searched for an egg drop soup recipe, or listen to 80s music? No. But if I were ever to become the target of a government investigation, they would have access to a wealth of information about me not previously available 10 years ago without a subpoena. Information that was once considered to be private. 

Just how far will it go? Over the last 10 years or so, we have given up a great deal of privacy to both the government and corporations. We have handed it to them either for our own “protection”, or because it makes life more convenient. Will it be the government who has access to this data? What about your employer? Third parties who want to advertise to you? 

Is the digital era going to be an era where nothing is private? It’s starting to look that way…

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2 Responses to In The Digital Age, What Is Privacy?

  1. Adam Kielich says:

    Just doing some basic research on clients, witnesses and opposing parties I tend to find a lot of useful information freely available between what people voluntarily make public and what aggregator sites make available, even for free. More often than not it’s not very useful information but it’s rare these days not to go into a depo or trial and not have a lot of potential impeachment evidence handy thanks to the internet.

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