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Posts Tagged ‘privacy

I had an uncomfortable gut feeling when I read this CNA article about biometric payments being available to schools here in 2018.

I had to dig deep for why I was uncomfortable. After all, I am all for technology making lives better. And therein lay the problem: In doing good, there was also the potential for harm.

The good is the sheer convenience of going cashless while being able to track spending. This might be the start of basic financial literacy.

According to the news article, the system has safety measures:

Fingerprint information will not be stored on the device. Instead, the prints will be encrypted and stored securely in a cloud database.

Anti-spoofing technology will also be put in place to ensure that the fingerprints are real and that the person making the payment is present.

This is the trifecta of data accuracy (reading), data security (keeping), and data integrity (reliably identifying). If just one to fails, the system’s users are harmed. Take the recent Instagram hack, for example.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the three data concepts are sound in practice. What is the harm then?

To answer this question, we need to ask at least one other question: What else can vendors do with the data that is accurate, “stored securely”, and reliable?

The short answer is lots. One needs only look at what Facebook and Google did (and continue to do) with our data. They offer their services for “free” to us because our data serves up advertisements which make these companies money. Lots of it.

One needs only to casually search for data breaches and infringements involving these two companies. For example:

The last item was not so much about the privacy of data as about the use and manipulation of data. That is my point: Assuring stakeholders that data is accurate, authentic, and safe is not enough; it is the lack of transparency and foresight about what can be done with that data.

Students are particularly vulnerable because adults make decisions about their data and the kids have no say in the biometric scheme. By this I am referring to the scheme being employed as a Smart Nation initiative, not the choice of whether to join the scheme.

The issue is so serious that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has tips for teachers about student privacy. These include:

  • Making digital literacy part of the curriculum
  • Advocating for better training for teachers
  • Getting parental consent
  • Selecting technology tools carefully
  • Building community of like-minded privacy advocates

A Smart Nation needs people to make smart choices. To do that, people need good information. Where is the information about how the data might be used both intentionally and peripherally? What promises and standards of practice can service vendors and providers be held to? Where is the public debate on the data privacy of the especially vulnerable?

Video source

If you already know about Heartbleed and have taken what action you can (like installing this extension in Chrome), then you might click here to skip the first 1.5min of this video.

The content of the video on privacy choice is not as long as it appears. For almost half of it, the host, Mike Rugnetta, responds to comments to a previous video. He also probably asks more questions than he provides answers about privacy.

Large corporations and a segment of the public might make the point that we choose to have our data online. Some of the data is what we want to share (public photos and videos) and some of it is private (email and bank account information). If the latter data is compromised, the corporations can say we chose to be part of their system.

However, I think the host tries to make the point that we have little choice. Essentially we are choosing to be part of a modern society or not. Each will come with its demands, compromises, and unintended consequences.

I think that what is private is subjective. It varies with changing expectations and the affordances of technologies. Personal photographs were private to physical albums. Then they could be shared via carousel slide shows. Then they were sharable with the whole world with Flickr and Instagram.

There still are things like bank account information that we would like to keep private. But I do not know of any modern bank that is not online. There are even banks that are only online. Nothing is absolutely private online even though banks will do their level best against hackers doing their level best.

We take calculated risks, we compromise, and we put our trust in many things we do not fully understand (e.g., powered flight, filtered water, online privacy). We evolve with our technology. In terms of privacy, what was sacred yesterday might be less so tomorrow.

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