In the 1900s, oil was discovered in the state of Texas and revolutionized the US economy. Coming right on the heels of the industrial revolution, oil had became one of the most valuable resources on the planet, and that meant anyone who owned the land it was found on now found themselves in various states of fortune. Texas grew from a mostly rural state to one of the most populous in the country, and this to date still has several major cities in the top ten list.
The phrase "data is the new oil" is a bit controversial in tech circles, mostly for nit-picking reasons. Detractors argue that unlike data, oil is a finite resource and that it is only valuable in bulk after being refined. However, according to Forbes, the top most valuable brands in the world in 2019 were Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, all companies notorious for their data collection and targeted-advertising. No matter how you interpret it, data is a moneymaker.
Most of us are not strangers to the concept of surveillance capitalism and targeted advertising. Most of us don't particulary care, either. After all, who wouldn't want relevant ads for movies or products that might actually appeal to you or improve your life? The thing is, most of us don't understand the aggressive measures these companies go to to create those marketing profiles, or the devastating effects they can have on people.
It may sound paranoid, but it's actually a credible fact that entire companies exist simply to collect your data and build profiles on you, and in their minds the ends will always justify the means. Often they collect data in ways that range from questionable to straight-up illegal, collecting information that no sane person would willingly consent to, but they do it in ways you can't detect. When your deepest, most personal secrets are a data point for a marketing agency, abuse of any kind is only a small step away, as could be seen in 2019 when the Egyptian government tracked opponents and activists through phone apps, the Moroccan government spied on the phones of human rights defenders, and the Chinese government hacked Asian telecommunications companies to spy on the Uighur, a minority Muslim ethnic group living in China.
It sounds far-fetched, like something from a dystopian sci-fi movie, but just a few of the factual methods of data collection include using high-pitched tones that only electronic devices (aka phones) can hear to report how many people are watching a TV show, collecting sale information, tracking your search history, tracking your car as you drive through the real world, tracking your phone as you browse the store to see where you spend the most time, collecting your DNA from family heritage testing services, selling your information to public data websites, government agencies selling your driver's license information, and more.
"Wow," you may say, "that's intense. But why should I care? I have nothing to hide."
Why Care About Privacy
- Privacy is a human right according to Article 12 of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Laws are not an indicator of morality. The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States, was not ratified until December 6, 1865. Despite this, segregation legally continued until the 1960s and racial issues continue to be fought in courtrooms today. Obergefell v Hodges made same-sex marriage legal in the United States in 2015 but this issue is still being fought in many jurisdictions.
- The US Government (and others) have been proven to spy on their own citizens, even peaceful, positive movements.
- The US Government has been known to leak personal information of citizens who express dissenting opinions, effectively discouraging people from exercising their freedom of speech.
- According to the Bureau of Justice: "During a 12-month period an estimated 14 in every 1,000 persons age 18 or older were victims of stalking" and "Approximately 1 in 4 stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking such as e-mail (83%) or instant messaging (35%)."
- Statistics show that lack of privacy leads to a population who is afraid to ask questions or educate themselves, even if the issues are important and the motives are pure. People are afraid to stand out lest they be mistaken for troublemakers, even if the cause is just.
- When you collect enough metadata, you can start to infer things that the person didn't necessarily want to reveal.
- On a large enough scale, the profiles compiled on individuals by mass surveillance can reveal unethical and personal information, such as how to successfully deceive people into doing things they wouldn't normally do. In 2016, Cambridge Analytica was accused of convincing entire countries to vote in ways they wouldn't normally vote, compromising democracy and literally changing the course of the future permanently
- In the United States, the fourth amendent of the Bill of Rights guarantees protection against search and seizure without a warrant based on probable cause. Mass surveillance collects information indiscriminately where US citizens have a right to expectation of privacy, thereby violating the constitutional rights of every American citizen. Additionally, the program has been proven to be expensive and yields almost nothing in return.
- The United States Government's surveillance program is about control, not stopping crime. This is most obviously demonstrated when the Federal Bureau of Investigation dropped charges against members of a group of pedophiles in 2017 because continuing the case would've required them to reveal the vulnerability they used to track the pedophiles, which would have inevitably led to the exploit being fixed eventually.
- Multiple industries are now keeping "surveillance scores" on people, which can be used to determine employability, overall consumer trustworthiness, insurance rates, and even whether you're a good person to rent to.
- Some countries, including the United States, are working on implementing a China-style social credit system fed by your online and collected data.
- 7.5 million people in the US were stalked in 2011, and one woman in 1989 was even murdered by her stalker who found her address from DMV public records.
- Tech companies have been known to sell your data to law enforcement agencies. In 2011, GPS data was sold to local police so they could issue traffic tickets.
- Countries have used digital communications to identify planned peaceful protests and stop them before they start.
- Financial institutions have been known to penalize you financially because they don't like your shopping habits. For example, AMEX lowered a person's credit limit because they shopped at "deadbeat" establishments like Walmart.
- A Los Angeles man was killed after accidentally posting his address to Facebook and Instagram. He had taken pictures of some goods he ordered online and the address was visible in the packaging.
- The US military (and probably others) purchases location data from popular apps that track weather, exercise, and even Muslim prayer to help target drone strikes.
Why Care About Security
- According to Edward Snowden (love him or hate him, he is a cyber-security expert), weak passwords can be hacked within seconds. Softwares to perform this are legally available for free all over the internet.
- Companies all over the world - big and small alike - are constantly suffering from data breaches that can reveal anything from username and password to account numbers, government identifications, and more.
- According to the Bureau of Justic Statistics, "Approximately 68% of the victims of cyber theft sustained monetary loss of $10,000 or more." Often cyber crime isn't just about draining a person's bank account, but also opening new accounts in that person's name, which that person is then liable to prove is illegitimate.
- Internet of Things (aka smart devices) attacks were up 600% in 2017.
- According to Microsoft the vast majority of cyber attacks can be stopped completely by using simple techniques like Multi-Factor Authentication and Password Managers.
- The number of new mobile malware targeting mobile devices increased by 54% in 2017.
- Failure to properly control access to your devices or accounts can result in information being uncovered by unwanted parties even if they have little or no technical ability.
- Researchers in 2015 were able to successfully hijack a Jeep while it was in use, controlling the HVAC, radio, windshield wipers and fluid, the digital display, the brakes, the steering, and the transmission. The hackers were ten miles away.
- 2020 is seeing an average of 7 million records per day being exposed in data breaches.
- Australia alone suffered 1,050 data breaches in the 2019-2020 financial year, a 12-month period. That's almost 3 data breaches per day in a single country with a population of only 25 million.
- For parents, child identity theft is on the rise, affecting over 1 million children in 2017 alone.