Your Data was Never Yours.

Did you really think it was? Did you really think the government could access none of it, that the miracle of an effectively free Internet was just a gift from the universe? Did you really think the companies that make their money by selling our body parts — eyeballs, mostly — could never be compelled, as telecommunications companies and banks can be compelled, to hand over that data to the government?

Did you think that sharing anything with your 300 closest friends left that thing imbued with even the smallest shred of privacy?
Did you think the companies that spill your data like oil, that share it like candy, that hack your WiFi and follow you around could be trusted to protect you?

Did you think their systems are so magical that, even if they did in fact have the world’s most benign intentions, they could never suffer a breach? Did you think the system originally born from the government would somehow morph into being off-limits to its father?

None of this makes it OK. It is not OK for the government to indiscriminately spy on us. It is not OK to avoid due process, and it is not OK for private corporations to track us without our consent.

It is not OK — but it happens, all the time. And yet we continue to be surprised when it happens, stunned at the magnitude of the revelations. We continue, Homer Simpson-style, to put our hand back on that hot stove and then whip it off again: “Doh!”
Do you think Google or Faceook usage has gone down since the Prism scandal came out? Out of the more than 171 million people who visited in May, how many of them might be so dismayed by the idea of being watched that they will change their search habits? I’ve used Google seven times so far just in writing this article. And even if you did change search engines, which one is better? Which one keeps you “safe”?

The bounty of our digital age is a feast for anyone who would access our data. Corporations. Governments. Criminals. Terrorists. If we put it online, we make it instantly vulnerable.

So here is the rule: if you don’t want the world to see it, if you don’t want it splashed across the front cover of The New York Times and The Guardian, if you don’t want people to know the intimate details of that oh-so-personal side of you, don’t publish it. If you want to be truly anonymous, don’t use computers that are connected to the Internet.

It is wrong for governments to break the law, and I can only hope that anyone responsible for doing so gets held to account. But it is also wrong to assume it won’t happen. Put enough of your digital valuables on display, and some hungry magpie will come along and peck at them.

The only way to fully avoid the magpie is to avoid creating and displaying such valuable items in the first place.

But will you? How many times have you used Google today?

By Kaila Colbin
Kaila Colbin is a serial entrepreneur who is fascinated by all things Web and human.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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