Digital Privacy Isn’t Taken, It Is Given Away

Open Source Data & Surveillance

With the Edward Snowden privacy leak there is an important factor that is being missed. It isn’t the government agencies that collect the data, they are merely consumers and harvesters of it. The data comes from corporations that have been collecting this it for years, data that we have given them freely in exchange for convenience and vanity. We are the victims and the perpetrators.

I know a little bit about this, as I have utilized a combination of tools that track stolen devices as well as leveraged open source data to assist law enforcement to gather additional information about suspects. By “open source” I am referring to the term law enforcement uses to define data that is open and available to the public. I didn’t need top secret NSA clearance, it is information people put up freely and made public and when doing so left additional invisible traces of data (“meta-data”) embedded in files and messages that helped paint a more detailed picture.

The Cloud Is A Database of You

Every email, phone call, text message, tweet, Facebook post, photo upload, check-in, online purchase is another entry into the big online database of you. However, that is just the data you know about, underneath there lies more layers of data that is logged and stored which many are not aware of that can provide just as much insight into our lives as the more opaque data we are accustomed to dealing with. For example:


This data all exists in isolated islands, however when there is a data breach, or a government agent gets a piece of information such as a IMEI number, IP address, MAC address or email, it can then tie pieces of information together. Here is my Portland Ignite 11 talk where I a bit more about some of real life cases where some of these techniques have been used:

Dude Where’s My Data?
We didn’t sell our soul to the Internet, we simply imported it. We have exchanged our digital privacy for convenience, speed and artifice. It doesn’t matter if it is wrong/right, ethical/unethical, it’s the big data elephant in the room, it exists and will continue to grow and more importantly organizations will do a better job of making sense of it and creating individual profiles. Although a fun intellectual exercise there is no way off this grid. You are no longer in full control of your own digital destiny. True digital privacy is dead.

I will be writing additional posts on this topic over the coming months, bringing in real-life examples and discussing how corporations, governments and hackers alike leverage data and technologies to invade our privacy for fun, profit and control. I will also discuss ways we can begin to reclaim some of our digital privacy along the way.