The way we live our daily lives has changed significantly in the last decade. By transferring so many of our daily tasks and interactions to the digital realm, we’ve created a detailed digital footprint of our lives. Whether most of us are aware of it or not, we tell our devices a lot about ourselves. Many of the conversations or actions we assumed were private can be monitored, broadcast, collected, or stored in ways that violate what we want to keep private. Now is the time to make the decision that privacy cannot die. Those of us that build the devices and write the code need to decide that the next decade will be one in which we recognize that there are many aspects of our lives that must remain private.
Different types of interactions require different levels of privacy. Voting records, medical records, our financial information, conversations with medical professionals—most of us want these types of information to stay private, shared with only the people who must be involved. Some interactions we want to keep private from certain people—we want to select the audience with which we share certain parts of our lives. Maybe it’s a conversation among friends. Perhaps it’s where we live, particularly if we feel threatened or worry someone could harm us physically. In order to control what we keep private and what we allow to be shared, we need to understand how our privacy is invaded.
In the digital realm, our personally identifying information (PII) is the portal to our privacy. Information about us unlocks access to all types of things we’d rather share only with that select few. Commonly accessible information like our name or address, when used in combination with less commonly known information like our mother’s maiden name, email address, or the color of our first car, acts as the key to our digital footprints. With it, identity thieves have the information they need not only to stalk us, rob us, target our children with inappropriate requests, or send us phishing scams—but to simply know more about us than makes us comfortable.
In order to control our privacy, we must first control the keys to our privacy: our personally identifying information. This starts with educating ourselves on the individual types of PII that are risky to share. Aside from a social security number, most PII can’t stand on its own to provide access to what we want private. As builders and innovators, we have an obligation to understand that criminals need combinations of data and to know which combinations put our privacy at risk. We need to have a sophisticated approach to how we request information and how we build devices and tools that share information.