Vice President, Global Consumer Marketing Gary is the worldwide marketing lead for McAfee Consumer, Mobile ...
Computers collect data; It’s a natural side effect of their operation. Every time you open an Internet browser or log into a website, your computer, smartphone, or tablet, information about you is stored. And as privacy and security expert Bruce Schneier points out, while much of this information is innocuous, it only takes one offensive video to ruin a reputation.
As a case in point, consider the lives of modern politicians. CNN recently reported, “To be a politician today is to live in some ways like a citizen of North Korea. A politician must assume that he or she is under 24-hour audio-visual surveillance.”
For many in the public eye, the only thing standing between them and professional and personal ruin is an Internet-connected device. Just ask Mitt Romney, whose 2012 campaign was arguably upset by his infamous “47 percent” video, filmed in secret by a fundraiser attendee. Or perhaps consider the digital demise of CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned after law enforcement connected anonymous emails to his affair with Paula Broadwell.
But politicians aren’t the only ones facing a new world of online surveillance. Examples like these simply underscore a key warning for an age in which computers and the Internet retain nearly every residue of human interaction.
As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously stated, privacy is no longer a social norm.
I believe that we are witnessing an historic change in privacy norms that will carry beyond my generation. While at some time in the future, information shared on social networks may carry little personal or professional weight (Think: There will eventually be 40-year-olds whose entire lives have been chronicled on social media sites), we’re still living in a world where private data can be easily abused.
Whenever we see this type of societal shift between old and new, it creates a rocky transition while those unaccustomed learn how to manage their lives in the wake of new ideas and technologies. This transition becomes even more difficult when you consider the breakneck pace of technological change. How can individuals learn how to carefully manage their online presence, without unplugging from the Internet-connected services and devices we have come to rely on?
Privacy management for a digital age
On the one hand, many of us believe we are protected simply because others lack interest in our secrets. On the other, it only takes a few seconds of damaging video content to ruin anyone’s reputation. As CNN pointed out, “What happened to Mitt Romney can happen to anyone who has ever said or done anything improper or stupid in the vicinity of any electronic device.”
Additionally, the implications go far beyond reputation management. There are safety concerns as well, especially when you consider the danger inherent in constantly sharing our location, phone number, and name freely online. And then there are questions about who is collecting data for what reason–can an insurance company deny you coverage due to healthcare information stored online? Should advertisers be able to customize results based on your search queries, past visited websites, or social networking profiles?
These are questions that will follow us for years to come, but what’s most important for consumers to understand is that privacy now requires more tech-savvy management. Privacy is a spectrum, and you can choose the amount of data you want to share with the online community. Still, this requires knowledge of what data is being collected about you, how it is being shared, and how to update your applications and devices to appropriately hide or share the data you store.
For our part, McAfee is working on technologies such as McAfee Social Protection to help consumers effectively enable privacy across accounts and devices. Apps like these can help you use a service like Facebook while still maintaining a hold on the data you would rather keep private – like your family photos.
In addition, users should pay close attention to the native privacy and sharing settings for all online accounts, as well as all security settings on Internet-connected devices. Services like McAfee All Access with McAfee Mobile Security allow users to easily manage privacy access levels across ALL devices–PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets–in addition to other secure storage and information sharing features.