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Trend 24: Increasing Loss of Control of our Personal Information & Identity | Smarter Web Strategies

Trend 24: Increasing Loss of Control of our Personal Information & Identity

Jan 25, 2011 Comments Off by

The Dark Side is growing and malware is rife, but many consumers take unnecessary risks by making their personal identity information available to strangers. In the online world, our security and privacy are at greater risk than ever before.

In amongst the many seemingly positive trends the Internet is bringing to our businesses and our lives, there is a dark side where online world introduces or magnifies new threats or vulnerabilities.

Whilst we generally try to protect our valuable access codes, user names and passwords from being seen by someone sitting nearby to us, we often don’t realize the threats that may be present from viruses, Trojans or other malicious software (mal-ware) that has found its way onto our computer, device or network.

We may have anti-virus software, but if it is not reliable and up-to-date, then we’re at risk.

Hacking Tools

We’re also at risk from our data being intercepted by others during its transmission through the Internet network. These risks are real and increasing.

On 24 October 2010, a new free program called Firesheep was released as a plug-in for the Firefox web browser. Firesheep is a hacking tool and allows someone on the same open wireless network as you to view your data packets, read cookies on your computer and access your user name and password to many sites including Facebook. With this information, the hacker can then side-jack your identity by logging in to other websites pretending they are you and adding comments or maliciously attacking you and your information.

The developers of Firesheep claimed they released the software to draw attention to the insecure nature of many websites. Is Firesheep popular?  Within 24 hours the plug-in had been downloaded 8,000 times, within 48 hours it had been downloaded 200,000 times and and by the end of January 2011, it had been downloaded over 1.1 million times and that is just from the main download site.

Previously, hacking into open networks required some technical skill. Now, it’s just been made easier.

Our Identity

Almost as bad as the threats from hackers are the threats and vulnerabilities we create for ourselves, often without care of even thought about the risks.

We willingly make information about our background and our identity available on social sites, websites and in emails. We never know who going to be viewing the information, or when or why.

As transient as an email might be, once sent it is gone forever – but we don’t know where it’s gone or where it is going to end up. Emails can be forwarded on so easily and quickly to others, sometimes by accident and sometimes very intentionally.

Information on social sites like Facebook is there forever, and open to abuse in so many ways. It’s not just your personal information such as birthdays, addresses or photos that should concern you. It’s your personal discussions, comments and thoughts often entered quickly on your ‘wall’ or someone else’s wall.

Worse, if you use Facebook’s messaging system, Hotmail or Google’s Gmail for your email, who knows what other person may have the power to access your messages?

This other person may work for the company running the system and be intruding on you because they can, or they may be an external person who has hacked into your account. They may be the government snooping around, or they may even be the company running the system using some clever matching software to match your expressed thoughts with advertisers looking to fulfill your innermost desires.

We give away our identity and our personal information too easily and too readily, sometimes without thinking about what we’re doing. We blindly believe privacy policies, often without even reading them. And we trust that people will probably do the right thing by us. But they don’t always…

Are Trusted Brands Trustworthy?

Facebook is known for allowing personal information it holds to be passed on to 3rd parties. As noted in the other discussions on Trusted Brands, Google’s then CEO and now Chairman Eric Schmidt wants his company “to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. In my view, they’ve already crossed the ‘creepy line’ by having a policy to almost be creepy. For a brand like Google, that is not just dumb, it is dangerous.

It’s a dark and potentially threatening scenario, but it’s real, and you may not even know it is happening or who is doing what creepy thing with your information.

This trend is not highlighted here to scare you, but if it does, then it’s maybe not a bad thing. The Internet and online business is great in so many ways, but there is a dark side. Just as we can’t ignore the trends that make the growth of the Digital Age unstoppable, we should not ignore the trend of us losing more control of our own identity and personal information. As with the other 24 trends, how we act – and react is up to us.

Questions To Ponder

  1. Is your virus protection software up to date?
  2. Do you connect to the Internet through open and insecure shared wireless networks? (e.g. in a coffee shop)
  3. If you use Facebook or other social media, have you checked your privacy settings?
  4. How much personal information do you, your friends and family reveal online?
  5. Are you a little bit more concerned about the ‘dark side’ of the Internet from reading this?  If so, what are you going to do about it?

Go to next trend: Increasing Power to Consumers

Go to previous trend: Increasing Importance of Peer Reviews & Recommendations

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