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Does privacy exist anymore? Just barely.

Evan Schuman | Oct. 26, 2016
The sphere of privacy continues to shrink

In the world of online payments, we have a similar example: The CVV. Those are the numbers on the back of Mastercards and Visas (on the front for American Express) that are not embossed. This goes back to the days when payment cards were run through a sliding mechanism that left an imprint on a carbon paper receipt. The CVV didn’t appear because those numbers weren’t raised. The original rationale? Because it would never appear on a receipt, merchants online could ask for the CVV as proof that the person was holding the actual card, as opposed to a receipt that he or she had fished out of someone’s trash.

But now that e-commerce sites routinely ask for the CVV, that data no longer means anything. It doesn’t mean that you have the actual card. It could simply mean that one of the umpteen million e-tailers that had that number has been breached. So, again, we have a number that at one point was private and meaningful and is now close to pointless.

Let’s go back to what we now consider private. Medical exams? As electronic medical record requirements spread, hospitals and doctor’s offices are outsourcing them to specialists. And those specialists may not be especially security-aware, or willing to pay the money to get help.

In short, expect your latest EKG or eye exam to be in the files of Eastern European cyberthieves.

What about tax returns? How many of those returns are in the files of Intuit, which helps people automate tax records? Breaking into the IRS may be difficult (OK, probably not, but let’s pretend), but accessing files from Intuit or its subcontractors should be far easier. And how about offsite backups?

Enough doom and gloom. Is there anything today that still is private? Yes. Ideas and thoughts that you dream up but never put into your computer or mobile device. For the moment, those are private.

Why for the moment? I am a big fan of Siri, the A.I. assistant in iOS. Whenever I have a question, I simply say, “Hey, Siri” and ask it. Think about that. That means that Siri’s microphone is constantly listening, awaiting that command. What is to prevent Apple from making use of what it hears while waiting? Or an identity thief who breaks into that mobile device?

For that matter, what about the internet of things? How many science fiction fans aren’t worried about their smart refrigerator, thermostat or security system noting everything they are doing?

Anything recorded or analyzed can be accessed. A few things are private today, but we may soon need safe rooms where all electronics are banned just to have a private conversation.

Maybe people are right. Privacy may not exist anymore.


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