Kalilur Rahman

9:58 AM, 1st Mar 2018

Digital Privacy - Is it a remake of "An Emperor's New Clothes "


Hans Christian Anderson's epic story is something most of us would've read during our school days. A tautological simile to that would be how we wear new clothes as an emperor or an empress in the current digital-centric world. With the advances in technology, are we moving back to the age of Adam and Eve in terms of how we stand, by wearing the "Emperor's new clothes"? 

The unfortunate answer is a resounding "Yes". With every technological advancement made, we open a door (or undress a piece of clothing covering us), for us to be transparent to the law agencies, Governments, Hackers and potentially unwanted elements - Criminals and Terrorists. In today's world, safer ones are the ones who are totally disconnected from the digital world, albeit the fact that they lose out on the advantages of the connected world and are toiling in their own way due to lack of facilities and access to multiple necessities and luxuries. So, the question then is, is "digital privacy" a boon or a bane? 

More than a decade back, while working in the telecom industry, I had an opportunity to be a part of a project on Location-based services, which was evolving at the point in time. The project was called as “Find my Teen”, which was following the concept of “Find me, Follow me” purely based GPS based location tracking measures. While it has become a very standard mechanism these days, it was cutting edge and research-oriented topics just a couple of decades back. Forwarding this to current context, pretty much every feature we use today using a digital device for fastest route to go to a place, how an Uber or Ola does most of its algorithm, fastest delivery mechanism are all based on how global crowd-sourcing of continuous data feed sent innocuously by the users of various apps and devices. Yes, this makes life a lot easier for many necessities of the modern world. However, what will happen if it is used incorrectly? 

Take the case of the WikiLeaks, Ed Snowden Case, Aadhaar Data Breach, Multiple instances of hacking and associated data breaches. Some are very sensitive, some are personal and some very discrete and affably image spoiling exploits. Leading security agencies across the world have tied up with the best and brightest in the world to build massive surveillance programs that make it hard for anyone to do anything remotely secret in a digital world. Digital forensics is eventuating to a whole new level, at least for the majority of the top surveillance agencies. Programs such as PRISM, XKeyScore, Tempora, MUSCULAR, Project 6, Lustre, Stateroom have made news in one form or other in the media. The Secure VPN based browser such as The Onion Router (TOR) has been compromised to remove the security layer out of the way to identify the identities of the users, like the full-body scan machines trialed for airport usage, raising some controversy.

There were major concerns raised by some countries to move away from the Internet as it was largely a US contribution to the world and the flaws that could be broken into, raising concerns. Some Governments have strict rules not to use applications, software, hardware, tools and services offered by firms from a country they have certain challenges with. EU has enforced GDPR laws, Russia has a rule to not let it’s citizen data reside in servers outside Russia are a couple of examples of Data protectionism. Given the nation-states have humongous power and muscle to do such a mass-scale, big-brother/big-boss style monitoring, how does it matter for global citizens and the general public? Take this as an example, as per an article published, China, which is leading the battle for facial recognition and computer vision supremacy is planning to take the citizen monitoring to a whole new level with a citizen score, purely based on past history and their mood. 
There are plenty of use cases available to use a simple Computer Vision, Facial recognition to finalize interviews, targeted advertising, as a bio-metric currency, Facial scans, Law and Order checks or a passport-less travel. This would be possible only with a cost. The cost of losing the right to own the data. Your data can be scattered over the net. A Tinder user asked for her data created on the site and she got an 800+ page reply. For Facebook, Twitter or Google, this can run into few hundreds of thousands or millions of pages in some cases. 

If you have watched serials like “Bigg Boss” or “Big Brother” or the Kardashians, you can correlate how a total stranger would feel about your life, what you do, what you feel etc. may spook you or make you happy – depending on how you take it. With the advances in technology, like the movie “Minority Report”, purely based on your digital bread-crumb and the impressions you left behind, based on the info you have shared and your current state of mind, a non-human digital pre-cognition agent can know more about you than yourself. 

Are you ready for this? Will you be able to live like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden in your emperor’s new clothes? To summarize, whatever we do, there are multiple players replicating the evergreen lyrics from “The Police” 

Every breath you take 
Every move you make 
Every bond you break 
Every step you take 
I'll be watching you 

Every single day 
Every word you say 
Every game you play 
Every night you stay 
I'll be watching you 

In the world of Digital Darwinism, be ready to wear “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Don’t worry, be happy” and “Be Good and Kind”  or you can be a happy camper by being digitally detoxed!
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