You can hear horror stories involving privacy anywhere. There are constant issues over privacy at Facebook. Look, for example, at 10 Solid Tips to Safeguard Your Facebook Privacy and at Could I have my stuff back, please?
We hear repeated warnings about things that just won’t go away or be undone once they are on the Internet. The Digital Guidebook wrote Something to Think About: Your Digital Identity is the New Chastity.
Consider this example from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), What Information is “Personally Identifiable”?:
Mr. X lives in ZIP code 02138 and was born July 31, 1945.
These facts about him were included in an anonymous medical record released to the public. Sounds like Mr. X is pretty anonymous, right?
Not if you’re Latanya Sweeney, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor who showed in 1997 that this information was enough to pin down Mr. X’s more familiar identity — William Weld, the governor of Massachusetts throughout the 1990s.
Gender, ZIP code, and birth date feel anonymous, but Prof. Sweeney was able to identify Governor Weld through them for two reasons. First, each of these facts about an individual (or other kinds of facts we might not usually think of as identifying) independently narrows down the population, so much so that the combination of (gender, ZIP code, birthdates) was unique for about 87% of the U.S. population.
The EFF report went on to say:
But research by Prof. Sweeney and other experts has demonstrated that surprisingly many facts, including those that seem quite innocuous, neutral, or “common”, could potentially identify an individual. Privacy law, mainly clinging to a traditional intuitive notion of identifiability, has largely not kept up with the technical reality.
CNet picked up on the story and wrote How 10 digits will end privacy as we know it. These 10 digits are the five-digit ZIP code, gender, and date of birth. CNet said,
Knowing just a little about a subscriber–say, six to eight movie preferences, the type of thing you might post on a social-networking site–the researchers found that they could pick out your anonymous Netflix profile, if you had one in the set. The Netflix study shows that those 10 de-anonymizing digits can hide in surprising places.
Our physical belongings also betray our anonymity by silently calling out identity-betraying digits. Small wireless microchips–often called radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags–reside in car keys, credit cards, passports, building entrance badges, and transit passes. They emit unique serial numbers. Once linked to our names–when we make credit card purchases, for instance–these microchips enable us to be tracked without our realizing it.
Ask yourself the following
· In what category do you fall? Worried, confident, concerned or unfazed about your privacy?
· Are you thinking about, developing, building, monitoring, and protecting YOUR digital footprint?
· Are you thinking about your footprint when (or not) posting or commenting on blogs, uploading material, or participating on social networking sites?
· Do you keep your personal and professional digital footprint separate?
· Do you just assume that no one will bother to try to find a trail to and about you?
If you aren’t paying attention to privacy yet, now is the time to get your head in the game and take a look at how you live your online life.
Some information in this blog thanks to the blog cross-posted at BlogHer, originally posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009