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RSA Europe: Bruce Schneier says profit-making motives are killing personal privacy

While the death of personal privacy had been on the cards for a long time, rapid technological advances “are enabling the evasion of privacy”, he said. “We are leaving our digital footprints everywhere”.

Schneier urged lawmakers to do more to help preserve and protect privacy.”How data is used is dependent on laws, and unfortunately, the legal trend in the US is to just say ‘don’t mess with technology’. Legal systems don’t keep up with technology – they are decided based on the now, not the future…We need to say that we want new laws”.

Cheaper to store

Due to the falling cost of storage, “It is actually cheaper to store data than delete it”, said Schneier. As we migrate our lives online, we need to become guardians of our own privacy policy, he explained, which he called “new and fundamentally unnatural…which is why most people choose default”.

Deciding what data we are prepared to surrender is harder given that people are rarely given a choice. “Cloud computing means having to trust vendors a little bit more. You lose control of your data as well as your hardware and software”.

Social networking sites present their users with choices defined by the site. The choices are filtered through the law, which is being outstripped by technological change, leaving people with only what net firms give them or can get away with, he said.

The cost of privacy

"The social rules are being set by businesses with a profit motive", he announced.

Facebook has faced a barrage of criticism about its privacy settings and despite efforts to address user concerns, has continued to worry privacy campaigners. Schneier said social networking sites’ privacy policies are “hard to find and understand because privacy matters more when you are thinking about it. If you don’t remind people about it, they will disclose more”.

Social networking sites have one big motive to attain as much data about their users as possible – the more data gathered, the better they can serve advertisers, he said.

"We are now seeing the death of privacy", he said dramatically. "Those CEOs are doing it and doing things to hasten its demise. The internet is the biggest generation gap since rock and roll. Teenagers are great at living their life in public – this is empowering for them. Teenagers are more accepting of surveillance, airline security, government databases.”

Schneir concluded by saying that how we deal with privacy now will define how future generations regard us in the same way that “commentators now look critically on the pollution produced as a by-product of the industrial revolution. They are going to look back at us and look at the things we do to deal with the pollution problem of the information age and judge us", he said.


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