Privacy is a growing concern in our digital age. Would you pay an extra $29 to your Internet provider so that they would promise NOT to snoop in on your web surfing? That’s exactly what AT&T is doing to their customers that sign up for their new Gigabit service. (Search for “Wall Street Journal AT&T Offers Data Privacy” to read the February 18, 2015 article.) Of course the way they frame it is they are offering a $29 discount to those users that will allow AT&T to see exactly what their customers are doing so they can in turn sell the information to various buyers.
The model really isn’t much different than what Google does for its users. If you chose to use the Google platform–from their phones, to email, to browsers, and of course the ubiquitous “Google Search,” you can do so for mostly free because Google in turn makes plenty of money by selling everything it learns about you to anyone who will buy.
Privacy is obviously a very personal topic with every person having their own comfort level and concerns. Some worry about their information being sold for commercial purposes, others find their tolerance pushed by the thought of having law enforcement or the government meddling in their information.
There is one untruth in the Wall street Journal article when it quotes a Stanford University computer scientist, “Such companies are in a position to perform relatively comprehensive tracking, and customers no practical way to thwart it.” In fact, when using electronic media, there are ways to minimize your “footprint” and to cloak your activities so they are difficult to track. Maintaining private conversations today requires extra techniques and tools.
And what can one do about the data that is already out there? The conveniences of our modern modes of working, communicating, and learning now bring extra challenges that require vigilance and care.
This article is written by Chris Murphy who teaches Safe Computing in the Unsafe Age of Hackers & Data Breaches: Computer Security for the Home Use and Maintaining Electronic Privacy in the Modern Age Empower yourself and take his classes.