The right to privacy is a constitutional gem. In the recent past it’s been assaulted and fraught with all manner of conspiracy theory. We are susceptible to stories of government, corporate, and individual attacks on our privacy because we ourselves recognize the continuity of connectivity that constitutes our everyday. How, then, do we decide which stories to believe, and consequently, when to defend ourselves?
FBI Director James Comey once advised, “I put a piece of tape over the webcam because I saw somebody smarter than I also had a piece of tape over their camera.” Sounds reasonable. So when Mark Zuckerberg posted a message celebrating that 500 million people are now using Instagram every month, it was his laptop that received all the headlines.
Astute observers noticed that the Facebook CEO had also covered the microphone and webcam on his MacBook with a piece of black tape.
This information combined with the controversy of Facebook requesting access to our smartphone’s microphone was a gift for conspiracy theorists. It’s moment like these that we require we parse out fact from fiction—an increasingly difficult task nowadays.
Kelli Burns, a professor at the University of South Florida, noticed that immediately after an offline conversation about a safari, the first post on her Facebook feed was a news story shared by a friend about a safari. Coincidence?
Meanwhile, anyone heading over to Google’s history page will find an extensive list of audio recordings against their account. The discovery of Google’s entire record of your activity on the Internet can be a little unnerving.
Taping over sensors might seem paranoid, but is it time to recognize the precautions that experts are taking? Maybe it’s time for manufacturers to build laptops with sliders to cover up the webcam? Or is it our smartphones that represent the biggest risks to our personal privacy?
Edward Snowden famously warned a few years ago that entire populations, rather than just individuals, now live under constant surveillance.
“It covers phone calls, emails, texts, search history, what you buy, who your friends are, where you go, who you love.” - Edward Snowden
The size of every individual’s digital footprint is ever-growing, but that matters little when systems are designed to track every minor move we make. However, that surveillance represents mass amounts of data; I mean mass! I am hard-pressed to believe that governments and corporations are truly sorting through it. And if they are, how concerned should we be? We regard our privacy as a precious gem, but as we grow more connected, it’s as if we are running toward an abyss without a bungee cord. We are buying into the surveillance that we fear without leaving recourse to escape.
Just think that going off the radar now is nearly impossible. Automatic license plate readers track movements in cars while our smartphone acts as a GPS-enabled tracking device. Everything we purchase can be tracked through credit and loyalty cards. We invite smart TVs and the Internet of things into our homes.
The problem with conspiracy theories is they tell compelling stories of probable causes that tap into our deepest fears. It’s easier to blame an invisible enemy for our woes than take responsibility for our own actions.
There is a lot of doubt. Oddly enough it sometimes fuels apathy. We grow so crippled by the greater, invisible forces in our lives that we simply stop discerning, thinking, and fighting. We relent. It’s possible we have already reached that point. The wolf may have long entered the house, and we, huffed-and-puffed to sleep.
What are your thoughts on privacy and security in the digital age? Is it time to put tape on our microphones and webcams? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.