RSA: Technology enabling massive privacy invasions

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RSA: Technology enabling massive privacy invasions

"Death of the ephemeral conversation".

Technology has inherently led to huge invasions of privacy as data has now become a byproduct of the IT society, according to a security expert.

Speaking at the RSA Conference Europe taking place in London, Bruce Schneier, noted author and chief security technology officer at British Telecom, claimed privacy is being eroded simply because of the way technology works.

He warned that people are under the illusion they have control over their data, when the opposite is in fact the reality.

“There are some serious social changes happening in our society because of IT,” he said.

“Increasingly we are leaving digital footprints in our everyday lives. Not because of any malice on anyone’s part but because this is the way technology works.”

For the most part, increasing invasions of privacy are not down malicious intent, but companies have still taken advantage of the situation, Schneier told delegates.

Firms are taking the data, using it to tailor their services to customers and in some cases selling it to other businesses, he added.

As data storage has become cheaper, increasingly businesses have decided to keep personal information rather than discard it as they did before, he continued.

“Storage became so cheap that you might as well save everything… everything is being saved,” Schneier said.

“Everything we do on the internet, data is created,” he added. “Many more of the conversations we have… happen in a way that is more data intensive.”

Less than a week after Facebook launched new tools designed to give users greater autonomy over their information, Schneier pointed in particular to privacy issues with social networks.

“You can now watch everybody,” he said.

“The systems are now never forgetting. Your Facebook page is going to be there until after you die and beyond.”

Schneier even went to the extent to hail the “death of the ephemeral conversation”, thanks to social networks.

On such social sites there is a problem with group behaviour, the security expert claimed.

“If you are on a site where you believe other people are exposing, you will be more comfortable. This is why social networking sites are constantly telling you what other people are doing,” he added.

Schneier also claimed sites do not advertise their privacy settings explicitly as it could actually have a detrimental effect in terms of that service’s user base.

“Salience matters, privacy matters more when you are thinking about it. If you put up a privacy assurance, that alone will inhibit disclosure, because it reminds people it is an issue,” he explained.

“This is why social networking sites hide privacy, because they would do better without it.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that laws have not been able to keep up with technology.

“When laws were written they weren’t thinking about how it will work in 10 years,” he added.

“I predict … that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will look back at us and question the data pollution problem that we caused.”

This article originally appeared at

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