Searching for Privacy in a World Without Secrets

“I am not a number, I am a free man”

IDC reported that we generated and replicated 1.8 zettabytes – that’s 1.8 trillion gigabytes – of data in 2011. To give you an example of scale you would need to stack CDs from Earth to the Moon and Back again – twice – to represent that amount of data and its expected to grow 50x by 2020. Interesting factoid: Through April of 2011 the Library of Congress had stored 235TBs of data. In 2011 15 out of 17 sectors in the US have more data per company than the US Library of Congress, much of that data is about you.

Facebook is preparing to raise $100 billion, yes a hundred billion, in a highly anticipated IPO next spring. Twitter is valued at $10 billion, and social media companies are pulling massive valuations. In terms of data, roughly 4 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day, and Twitter registered 177 million tweets per day in March of 2011. The success of these companies, and many others, is trade in human commodity. There is an inherent value to your tweet, your wall post, becoming mayor at some DC cafe or posting your location to wherever people post those things, but the real value is simply in your existence as a number in a sea of other 1 and 0’s.

We are entering a world where every aspect of our lives, short of those thoughts we hold deep, will be processed, indexed, analyzed and archived forever. What we search for, our online activity, where and how we drive, what we buy; when and how often, our health, financial, and personal records digitized for quick sale to the highest bidder. Never before have we had the ability to implement systems to handle massive volumes of disparate data, at a velocity that can only be described as break-neck and with this ability comes the inevitable misuse.

The commercial implications for companies seeking access to this depth and breadth of customer intelligence is clear, but this same information federated with the analysis of unstructured video, picture, voice and text data in the hands of our government or one that meant us harm is truly frightening.

Social media is an interesting experiment in applying a large scale operant conditioning chamber to a mass population, the law of effect is a retweet, a friending, being listed on a top x most influential list, or whatever else elicits the desired response. We leap head first off the cliff of technology and only concern ourselves with the implications when they become a problem for us.

The irony is that in our search for identity and individuality in an increasingly digital world we have willingly surrendered that which we used to hold so dear – our privacy.

May future generations forgive us.

Top 10 Most Overhyped Technology Terms

We have entered a new era of information technology, an era where the clouds are moist, the data is obese and incontinent, and the threats are advanced, persistent, and the biggest ever. Of course with all the paradigm-shifting, next generation, FUD vs. ROI marketing, its important to remember that sometimes we need to balance innovation against misunderstood expectations, vendor double-speak, and relentless enterprise sales guys.

Because contrary to the barrage of marketing, these technologies won’t make you rich, teach you how to invest in real-estate, help you lose weight or grow a full head of hair, it won’t make you attractive to the opposite sex, nor will it solve all your problems, in some cases they can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operating environment but it requires proper planning, expectation setting and careful deployment…and on that note, I give you the top 10 most overhyped technology terms over the last decade.

Continue reading

Is Social Media Destroying Rational Debate?

(this post is dedicated to all those I have debated – poorly – on twitter and in blogs)

I must admit that I do enjoy the experience of a good debate, the adrenaline rush, the give and take with a qualified adversary, the thrill of victory and hopefully the expanse of ones views. So often though many of us fall back on cheap tricks, emotional triggers, and framing points of view in extremes or black and white terms – all of which result in polarizing, as opposed to elevating the discussion. This is not a new phenomenon and has been used through the years by some of the most prolific personalities in history. In some cases the result is for the betterment of all and sometimes it is to the detriment of many.

What is new is social media, such as twitter, blogs, facebooks, etc., which provide an excellent mechanism to reach a large population of geographically dispersed people – that is good. Unfortunately the speed at which information is disseminated as well as the lack of detail and time used to build an argument that can facilitate healthy communication is severally impacted in these mediums – that is bad.

I don’t know how many of you have tried to carry on a debate in 140 characters, but it is a poor forum for anything beyond where one should eat dinner and even that can quickly border on contentious if not bounded properly.

Here is an example of a bunch of recent twitter debates (modified slightly and the names have been changed to protect the silly):

Continue reading

Hacktivism: Offensive Computing and the Rise of the Political Hacker

As I am sure most have heard Sarah Palin’s yahoo account was recently hacked and the contents posted online.  There has been a lot of debate about the legality of such action (by both the hacker misguided youth – who couldn’t care less, although his father is probably pissed (here) – and by Palin for using a private email account for government business) neither are terribly interesting in the context of cyber security and from a political perspective it isn’t like Obama is immune to email hacking either (here). But again the mainstream media is missing the most important point – aside from the raucous cries of partisanship, which reverberate through every election, the reality is that malicious hackers may have a material impact on a US presidential election if not in 2008 then certainly within my lifetime.

The current state of cyber security is abysmal, the lack of confidence in the US political process has been strained and this election has played the social *ism cards, such as terrorism, racism, sexism, ageism, and lipstick on a pigism, more than any other in recent history. You know it is getting ugly when a Republican political strategist like Karl Rove states that the Republicans have “gone too far” (here), this is like Ted Bundy telling Joseph Francis, the creator of “Girls Gone Wild”, that he mistreats women.

The conditions are ripe for digital election manipulation in multiple forms, this is not to say that voter manipulation is new, nor is hactivism (here), what is new is the impact it may have on a US presidential election. So what has changed and why now?

1. Information integrity: First and foremost there has been a sea change in how information is shared, manipulated, and redirected. Traditional media is now facing extinction against a flood of new media outlets, from blogs to social media to social networking, information flow is fast and pervasive. The problem with an information rich environment is the quality of the information is dramatically reduced. In the frenzy to quickly post a story fact-checking may be haphazard, if done at all, and something may propagate from rumor on a blog to discussion on chat rooms to the front page of a global media’s online edition in a matter of hours. Imagine this “information” sharing during the critical moments of a campaign – it would have a material impact on when, how, and even if some citizens vote.

2. Counterfeit reality: Photoshop and similar technologies have dramatically expanded the ability for people to manipulate images, in many cases to the point that it becomes nearly impossible, without sophisticated methods, to determine the validity of such images. Just like in years past there has been no shortage of political Photoshop, for the most part these have been more for humorous purposes, but it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine counterfeit reality being used to demean a candidate, misrepresent a situation, or create an international incident (here)

3. Vote manipulation: The most significant  impact hackers may have on a political election is manipulation of the actual votes themselves. There have been many stories of security problems related to electronic voting machines and at the end of 2007 California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, withdrew approval for multiple electronic voting machines citing significant security concerns (here). Although some may argue that the impact would be isolated since the theory is that these voting systems would only be deployed in an air-gap network, the reality is that electronic media is generally transferred, correlated and eventually archived and throughout this process additional attack vectors become available.

None of this is new; propaganda, voter fraud, data modification, counterfeit reality, and all manner of manipulation have been used for centuries, what has changed is that the electronic medium introduces levels of speed, pervasiveness and quality of fraudulent material that is very difficult to replicate in traditional mediums. I have no doubt that we will see a significant electronic “incident” occur during either this or an upcoming presidential election.

<update 9/19/2008: Although not terribly relevant, apparently Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, the Fox News savior of the downtrodden and misaligned conservative right and Stephen Colbert inspiration, has been hacked for making disparaging comments about Palin being hacked (here) – ha!>