How deep do your cyber secrets go? What are the things you wouldn’t like to share with anyone? Maybe your sexual preferences, maybe the kinks you are into, or perhaps your religious beliefs or lack thereof? Whatever it is, they’re not exactly secrets anymore.
If you gasped a bit, or felt your heart sink for a bit, that’s ok, because it’s all natural, and it’s all true, too. Sure, it may not be black on white on the Internet that you don’t believe in God or that you don’t really like your best friend, but the Internet knows. Ok, not the Internet, but the companies whose tools you use every day do.
Just the other day, The Guardian published a report from one of its journalists who asked Tinder for the personal data the company had on her. If you’re in Europe, you can do that too under the EU data protection law.
What came back might scare you – 800 pages of personal data. What time they started using the app, who they swiped left, who they swiped right, who they texted with and what they texted, where they were, what things they liked on the linked Facebook account and the images they shared on Instagram. The list just goes on and on and on.
All this data is used to help the app better propose matches, as well as to direct ads to you better. Imagine that this is just a hook-up app, so try to figure out how much info Facebook has on you. How about Google?
This data is, theoretically, safe. Practically, you can never really know when the service can suffer a data breach and all that information can be laid out in the open for everyone to see. Perhaps the worst part of it all is that you don’t even realize the magnitude of the situation and just how much information these companies have that you don’t want the world to see, how much these neural networks working in the background and put two and two together and figure out even more things about you.
In the case of The Guardian’s Judith Duportail, she got to see everything this company had on her. “Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data. This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality,” digital technology sociologist at Dartmouth University Luke Stark told Duportail. And he’s right. We can’t see all the data we are inadvertently sharing with these companies that offer us “free” services so everything they have on us seems inconsequential because we can’t see just the magnitude.
In a recent chat we had with F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen during the ITBN conference in Budapest for an interview we will publish soon we discussed how we have reached a point where we “pay” with our data for the services we use, be it Google, YouTube, or Facebook. The question that arises is whether we’d much prefer paying actual money instead of our data. In this day and age, however, this seems to have become impossible for the most part.
The dark scenario for your cyber secrets
So, imagine this scenario – Tinder, Facebook, or Gmail suffers a security breach and all your information is out there in plain text. We’re not talking about your email address, password, or even your credit card information. We’re talking about your deepest, darkest, cyber secrets. Hackers, jokers that they are, think it would be just hilarious to dump all this information online, unless, of course, they try to blackmail you (but that’s another story altogether). What would you feel if your family, your friends, your coworkers, your spouse or children saw all these details about you online? Shame? Embarrassment? Ridicule? All of the above?
A study from Gardner estimates that by 2020 3 out of 4 major cyber secrets will be out in the open. That’s 75% of things you wouldn’t want others to know about you, that perhaps you didn’t even personally (anonymously) share online, but some AI figured out about you. Arthur Keleti, cybersecurity expert that’s been focusing on cyber secrets for years, including in his book “The Imperfect Secret,” believes that Mark Zuckerberg was right a few years ago, when his opinion about privacy – that it is no longer a norm expected by society, was heavily criticized. More specifically, Keleti says, despite our reluctance to accept the new reality we live in, the public is growing in size and complexity and, with it, so does the notion of “privacy.”