Technology Companies Need To Take Responsibility And Give Us A Better Default

Technology Companies Need To Take Responsibility And Give Us A Better Default
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It's no longer a surprise to hear that a major company has had their customers' personal information compromised. Every day identity theft becomes more of a problem, passwords become an even less reliable defense, and the threats you face online become more sophisticated. Yet the vast majority of the time, things still seem fine; your life really isn't impacted that much. You only become fully aware of how poorly protected you are online when you or someone you know become a target.

With the recent news that dozens of female celebrities had their property stolen and maliciously released to the public without their consent, people are worried that they might be next - and they are wondering what photos they may have taken in the past. At this moment, the pitfalls of cyber-security feel like an abstract issue and more like a real problem that everyone will have to deal with at some point. Articles explaining how to disable cloud backups are already making the rounds. But the reality is that this type of thing happens all the time online, it just doesn't make the headlines. There's an entire sick, seedy subculture devoted to exploiting security loopholes to expose, embarrass, and harass people - especially young women.

We have all seemed to collectively ignore the advice on how to responsibly use our devices. Technology allows us to do so many things immediately that we don't really pay attention to the theoretical possibilities involving long-term risks. Instead, it's far more productive to examine how we can develop a privacy and security situation that works to protect us by reducing our chances of being at risk.

But that will require a change in thinking. Too often technology companies have put your security second to their priorities, and that has a real cost. Whether it's Apple promoting iCloud integration, Facebook testing a new feature, or Google mandating sharing on its networks, the burden is passed on to you. You have to figure out what it means, whether you actually want it, and determine if you are even allowed to not participate. That's been great for business - but users are having to deal with the consequences without adequate preparation or explanation.

Compare the amount of attention that goes into the magical experience of opening a new iPhone box versus the confusing mess that is your Photo Stream settings.

Yes, we still need companies to make two-factor authentication mandatory, institute rate limits on passwords, and implement other common sense practices that should been reviewed long ago. Far more research needs to be done on usable and intuitive security practices. Privacy policies need to become readable, supplemented with easy to understand information and defined in overarching philosophies. Alternatives to the password should continue to be developed and tested -- but all of these things will eventually become inadequate.

New technologies and features will come out that will challenge the status quo and require us to revisit the way we configure settings. The pace of technology today makes it quite impossible to stay ahead of the curve. It's enormously difficult to completely secure something that is constantly changing and growing. The people who work at these companies have good intentions but limited resources, and it's understandably difficult to align the priorities of everybody involved.

What's needed is a serious acknowledgement by the industry that your security and privacy online are directly linked. When a person can't easily follow how their information is stored, shared, and managed, they are far more likely to be at risk. The only practical solution is to give users default settings that are more in line with human behavior. The more we rely on technology and the deeper it becomes engrained into our everyday activities, the more important that becomes.

The devices we have are designed to be addictive, personalized - even intimate. The allure of technology is how natural it feels, we learn to coexist with the possibility of massive embarrassment and failure that are constantly looming. Technology companies have done an incredible job of knocking down the barriers between the digital and physical world, especially when it comes to our identity and relationships. Yet they have not held up their end of the bargain in giving us a safe, secure space to be ourselves. We deserve to have an internet that is optimized for our interests.

This article originally appeared on Forbes - Disruption and Democracy. Check out my upcoming book, Identified: How They Are Getting To Know Everything About Us

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