Last week I was speaking with my wife Mary Beth about her 30 years in the field of education. She joked and laughed about being a dinosaur. I responded by saying, “Sweetheart, you’re not a dinosaur, you’re a crocodile. The dinosaurs are all gone – but crocodiles learned how to survive. So have you.”
In my own inarticulate way, I was trying to compliment Mary Beth for her relentless pursuit of educating students. Few if any teachers have had the impact on their students as she has over the years. She exudes a passion to educate and protect her students. Sadly, today’s children and their families are attacked from multiple directions in the form of technology, media and culture. Often overlooked is the issue of privacy.
Privacy is the stealth attacker. It is seldom seen or heard. It’s the carbon monoxide of the Internet era.
I often ask students or parents attending our presentation on social media, “What if after 911, President Bush mandated that every American be injected with a chip that followed their every movement, conversation and location? How would you have responded?”
The answer of course is with great indignation and rage. However, the government didn’t exercise such plans – nor would they need to.
A few years later, our adoption of the smart phone made the issue a moot point. Today, most Americans are as attached to their devices as they are to their limbs. It’s the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see at night.
Americans depend on smart phones to wake them, entertain them, direct them, answer perplexing questions and yes at times speak to them. All of this happended following the introduction of the iphone in 2007.
The physical and psychological price we have paid for such addictions include neck and back problems, hand and elbow issues, poor eye-sight, and of course that permanent, stooped downward stare that seems a benchmark of every connected youth. Yet, we seldom stop to consider the privacy issues technology has brought upon us.
Recently, the extramarital affair site Ashley Madison was hacked and the private information of its members threatened to be released if the site is not shut down.
Troy Hunt, who runs the site “Have I Been Pwned?”, revealed the Ashley Madison site flaw on Monday, July 20th. A weakness in the site exploits its email database which allows hackers to determine if someone may have registered for an account on the site.
What is the result for many American spouses? Well… as Ricky Ricardo often said to Lucy, “You’ve got a lot of splainin to do!”
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
You would think by now that most of us would understand that there is no guarantee of privacy in a world dominated by technology and interconnected digital infrastructure. In fact, approximately 50 data breaches of prominent companies or apps are listed on “Have I Been Pwned?”. Many of us use these resources daily, including: Adobe, SnapChat, Forbes, Yahoo, Gawker, Domino’s, Sony, VodaFone and Minecraft Pocket Edition.
Does this mean that every cretin, thief, thug and miscreant are attempting to secure your information, or that of your child? Of course not. But is does mean that you, your child and your information are easier to track than you might think. Once that information is obtained — including just an email address – sites such as Spokeo can track all of your social media accounts, home ownership information and much more for under $4 per month.
WATCHING YOU AT WORK?
Those working at Fortune 500 companies have known for some time that corporate Human Resources departments might monitor their movements with keycards and video cameras. Additionally, the infrastructure provided by corporate IT registers each login of laptops or tablets — including keystrokes, email and web browsing.
Some justify such monitoring as an attempt to reduce the hours of non-business communication during the work day. However, these companies often overlook how mobile communication has also increased the hours and extension of human capital after hours during an employee’s personal time. However that’s a discussion for another day.
However, whether in the home, at the office or otherwise, if you’re using the company’s devices understand that you might be under the watchful eye of HR.
THE CASE OF DAREK KITLINSKI
The same might be true for those working for our federal government.
Take the case of Darek Kitlinski who claims that he was refused a transfer within the DEA due to his status as a Coast Guard reservist. Friction grew between him and his superior over the issue.
According to reporter Lee Ross of Fox News, last fall, after leaving a secure DEA garage, Darek noticed a red blinking light coming from under the hood of his SUV. He reached in and pulled out a still functioning Blackberry bearing a DEA identification sticker. The device allegedly traced back to the DEA’s top Human Resources officer.
While these are unusual situations, it’s important to note that the world of communication has changed and will continue to alter the methods we use to communicate private information.
Given the abilities of today’s smartphones to record video and audio – and track location, imagine the consequences when they are used against individuals who think the information is private. Below are just a couple of real-life scenarios:
1) A student confronts a teacher who had sexually abused her. Their phone conversation is recorded on her smartphone.
2) A journalist records her false confessions to various priests and then broadcasts them.
4) During an athletic practice a coach is verbally disciplining a player.
Although most us will never need to deal with such scenarios, our children must know that such devices among unethical individuals can place obstacles to our education, careers and relationships. No other generation in our history has had to deal with such evolution of technology and its impact on our private lives.
As a wise person once said to me years ago, “If you wouldn’t want your grandma to hear or see it – don’t say it or do it. In today’s environment, skilled (and at times unskilled) hackers can access smartphones externally to monitor its movements and even eavesdrop on conversations.
To all parents, grandparents and students out there – learn to be a crocodile… not a dinosaur. Learn to change and manage the technology and culture before the technology and culture changes you and your children.
Failure to manage your online privacy might leave you with, “A lot of splainin to do.”
For more information on protecting your child online, please read my blog called: Simon Says, Take 10 Steps Forward.