Protect Yourself

AndreSecurity in the digital age.

by André Natta


Driving through Norwood and other areas of the city recently, and seeing the orange tubes associated with new broadband fiber cables being laid, makes me excited for the possibilities of increased connectivity and concerned for the types of debates ready to begin.

Privacy is poised to become an even bigger issue in 2014 than it was in 2013. It’s easy to see the reason for concern following the discovery of data breaches at both Target and Neiman Marcus late last year. I know many people who’ve received new credit and debit cards thanks to those events.

There’s excitement associated with the recent purchase of Nest Labs, the guys behind the new functional and digitally connected temperature control and fire alarm unit that is the new “it” home accessory (by Google for $3.2 billion). You’re slowly seeing the excitement change to concern as people realized it lays the groundwork for an equally significant security breach affecting home safety. The alarms in both of these cases are going off in people’s heads following the continued drips from Edward Snowden about the extent the federal government, via the NSA, has been peering into our lives.

It’s not like it wasn’t possible to flip through once widely-distributed telephone directories that sat in our homes for generations. Several colleges used to use a student’s Social Security number as their ID number (the practice has been abandoned). The idea of these things being instantly available online for all to dissect and leverage for identity theft makes it appear to be more significant and amplified now. It doesn’t mean we should be less vigilant in protecting our privacy, but haven’t we already given away some of it already? Perhaps we’ve simplified the argument too much, an approach that needs to be altered soon.

Metro Birmingham is not immune from these digital attacks. More people in the Magic City are finding their way online than ever before with those recent upgrades to our mobile and fiber networks. It means we should be having conversations about how to approach operating in a much more connected world, albeit one not as equally connected as we think.

We often dismiss the idea of creating multiple passwords and disabling the location services capability on our smart phones and tablets (both still extremely important in the battle for securing our digital lives) yet cringe when the curtain on the other side of our carefully crafted digital public persona is made visible for all to see. We worry about the level of privacy in part because we worry about how people will react to how we see the world (and our place in it). It assumes there’s something everyone is attempting to hide. That’s not the problem with increased surveillance and privacy breaches. The issue stems from not knowing how the information accessed will be used. They may attempt to wipe out your bank account, but it could be used to mask someone’s identity or to build out an alternative narrative for all sorts of devious things.

We long for privacy while continuing to expand the ways we share our lives with others. We talk of being able to wear clothing that will relay data to and from us but don’t always think of the consequences. The virtual world often appears to be more willing to write now and think later—an approach that could be the spark to some much needed discussion about issues vital to the future of the city—whether it’s economic development or race relations. Maybe our concern about privacy is based on realizing these conversations need to happen and that we’re not as perfect as our Instagram photos make us appear.

As fearful as we are of the unknown, perhaps it would help to take a closer look at just what those terms of service we blindly agree to most times actually say. Maybe using a service like Terms of Service; Didn’t Read ( might help, or maybe we have to accept that we tend to sign over our rights to privacy on a much more frequent basis than we realize. Perhaps we’ll finally understand—or will we wait until it’s too late to do anything about it?

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