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Why IT security pros can be scarier than the 'bad guys'

Melissa Riofrio | March 4, 2013
Forget about hackers and phishers. Big business wants your personal data, and your privacy is just a hurdle to be surmounted.

Your location, your activity, your face: all fair game

Hughes also delved into issues surrounding "contextualization"--using your online data to customize "content" (read: advertisements) to your browsing habits and personal demographics. Obviously, contextualization is already a widespread (and profitable) business tool, as anyone who's experienced targeted ads on Google already knows.

The data set used for contextualization is diving ever deeper, though. "Context will put the debate on targeted ads on steroids," Hughes told the crowd. "Not only are we going to have the sensitivity of where you've been online, but where you are in the world, and what you are doing and thinking."

Oh, but it gets better. Facial recognition, anyone? You can tell your friends not to tag you in their photos all you want, but that's small potatoes.

"We will see the anonymity of crowds dissipate," Hughes said, predicting that photos taken by other people, or by cameras installed in public places, will be used to find you wherever you are. Remember the Where's Waldo? children's books, where you had to find Waldo among huge crowds in famous places around the world? Who knew that the happy, wool-capped Waldo would be the harbinger of privacy problems to come.

Do not track me... please?

When the Obama Administration introduced its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in February, 2012, the bill cited "privacy-enhancing technologies such as the 'Do Not Track' mechanism" as safeguards against many of the tactics that Hughes' audiences members would like to preserve. Choose not to be tracked, and web sites wouldn't be able to collect information about you. It's the ultimate protection, right? No, think again.

"Do Not Track is a very, very complicated and challenging issue," Hughes said. Indeed, there's no standard implementation for data tracking from browser to browser, and that's an inconvenient truth for anyone who would need to implement Federal policy (which hasn't yet been passed). But for Hughes, the real problem for privacy professionals is, "how do you switch it off or maintain it switched-off."

Yes, you heard right: Do Not Track would be just another hoop that big business needs to jump through--or circumvent entirely.

Unfortunately, for now, businesses that want to track our data don't even have to worry about the technical vagaries of Do Not Track. "None of this has the force of law yet," said Hughes. "Without the ability of regulators to enforce, we may not have any enforcement at all. Do Not Track may not have any consequences."

You can see where this is heading. And Hughes confirmed as much: "Some organizations have come out and said they will ignore Do Not Track."

Giving away your online data--willingly


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