Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

A Brief History of Privacy

Remember the 15 year-old kid who was videotaped waving around a golf ball retriever while pretending it was a light saber in 2002? The video was uploaded – unknowingly – to an Internet video site by some of the boy’s friends. All across the Internet, people started mocking him, making fun of his awkward maneuvers. Then, several edited videos of “the Star Wars Kid” started to be uploaded, adorned with special effects. It was a breach of privacy that made this kid an internet sensation.

Privacy has a very long history. In fact, privacy in America has gone through drastic changes since the 1600′s as you can see in this chart. Fortunately, methods of protecting privacy are always evolving and getting better. Unfortunately, security breaches will always occur.

The legal concept of privacy in the United States states that if you intend to keep something secret then it shall, in fact, be kept secret. All other information is considered public. However, the societal concept of privacy is a bit more complicated and has been for a very long time. For example, many people have a strong desire to share experiences, anecdotes, photos, videos and souvenirs. However, those same people don’t like when others they didn’t invite to share in those experiences have access to this information. Then the question shifts to – ‘Who can I trust with this shared data?’

Controlling privacy online requires effort. It can result in a paradox where we can be unaware of how much information we are sharing and with whom we are sharing it. Danah Boyd, an anthropologist and social networking expert says, “information is not private because no one knows it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled.”

Managing online privacy is difficult because we do not have the degree of control we would have in an offline environment. However, there are protective options available. Since inception, SpiderOak has been very focused and passionate about online privacy. This lead to the creation of our 100% ‘zero-knowledge’ privacy approach to storing users’ data. More recently, we have worked closely with our friends at Electronic Frontier Foundation who are continually active in protecting the digital rights of online users.

How important is privacy to you? Do you have any stories you’d like to share where your privacy was compromised? How has it changed your online activity? Please don’t hesitate to write your thoughts and/or ideas and ways you protect your privacy.

On a related note and if interested further, I encourage you to read a good book on this topic – “Privacy and Big Data”.

Biggest Privacy Faux Pas of 2011

Though it’s impossible to account for all the data security breaches that happen, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, about 30 million records were compromised in 2011 in 535 separate breaches in the United States. Furthermore, those numbers reflect only the breaches reported. Many more go unknown or unreported. Many times, hackers are the culprit. However, a significant portion of the breaches come from inside the organization where an employee or agent with access to the data are at fault.

Unlike SpiderOak, some companies and services don’t encrypt information inside databases. This was the case with Sony. The Sony breach alone accounted for nearly 80 million records! Other breaches occurred because someone left a server wide open, leaving very sensitive or personal information accessible on the Internet. This was the case with Texas Comptroller, when 3.5 million people’s names, addresses, and social security information was open to the public. Some breaches were caused by carelessness, when backup tapes or laptops were stolen after being left in cars. This was the case with the Department of Veterans Affairs when 26.5 million veterans were exposed by an employee who took an unauthorized computer home.

Of course, how could we forget about the giant Dropbox breach who confessed that a bug in the service’s authentication software made passwords optional for a period of four hours. This allowed anyone to log into a user’s account simply by entering their user name. An estimated 25 million users’ accounts were compromised triggering a class action lawsuit.

As a company with the core focus on privacy and security, we know how important it is to safeguard your privacy and maintain internet safety standards. That is why we are happy to emphasize our Zero-Knowledge policy which allows only our users the ability to access their data. In addition, we are looking to certify other companies in the future who also adopt this approach. Stay tuned!