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Digital Dirt

Digital Dirt

January 3, 2019 6:42 pmComments are Disabled

Another day, another data breach.

We have centralized our private data across a handful of so-called trusted services any of which, at any time, could be breached, and odds are will be breached. And even if the Cloud doesn’t open and rain out all of your personal data, every email or text message or tweet or IM you have ever sent has another party on the other end who has the power to violate your privacy, publicly and forever.

So sooner or later, like it or not, it’s all coming out. Are you ready? Are we, as a society, ready?

The Facebook messages you wrote to your crush in high school, the video of you doing a keg stand in college, the slur you threw at a friend over IM in innocent jest before you knew how hurtful it could be. The nude selfies you sent. The neo-Nazi you followed on Twitter because you retweeted a joke you thought was funny and didn’t vet the source. The love letters you wrote to the ex you haven’t spoken to in 10 years—your ex still has them.

It’s not just what you said that’s coming out. Every flight you ever took, every hotel you ever stayed in. Every Uber you ever rode, where to and where from. Every Tinder match you ever swiped and every Bumble message you ever sent. Every purchase you’ve ever made with a credit card, even the embarrassing ones. Every visit to the gym. Video of you in almost every public place you’ve ever been is stored somewhere. A frame of you picking your nose in the elevator on your way up to your last job interview is on someone’s cloud, somewhere.

But that’s not all. There’s evidence of you doing drugs on someone’s feed. There’s a grainy flip phone video from 2006 of you and your friends knocking over mailboxes. You recorded—via Instagram story—cheating on the final exam which qualified you for that B.A. you’re going to need for that law degree you’re going to need to become a judge, and you’re going to need to have your rulings taken seriously down the line.

And that’s just out of what you consented to sharing. There could be a creep with a toilet or shower cam of you somewhere. One of your exes could have uploaded your sex tape to a revenge porn site. How many people have taken photos of you in the background of their vacation selfies? How many of your supposedly private moments have been captured somewhere, somehow?

You may be an exhibitionist, so you don’t care. Or, you may have nothing you think is worth hiding, no messy parts of your past you hope to vanish into historical oblivion. And, besides, your character has changed. That’s not the person you are now. And you’d like to think that, even if your spouse one day finds out that you spent the first five years of your marriage using a website to look for an affair, you will be forgiven. They’ll all understand, won’t they?

But here’s the scary thing: they won’t. Not unless we do something about it.

Here’s the bugbear: at the same time we are giving more and more of our private lives to the cloud, we have developed a culture of absolute non-forgiveness of those whose private data comes to light. We burn the heretics via social media as if we are without digital skeletons in our closet.

This may seem fair, even righteous, when it’s, say, a basketball team owner who is secretly recorded using racial slurs. Or even old homophobic tweets of a prominent comedian are ‘uncovered’ right before he’s set to host the Oscars. The pedophiles who get exposed on Catch a Predator don’t evoke our sympathy, even when they commit suicide.

But are you so certain they will draw the line at you? How do you know they won’t come for you next?

When nothing is forgivable, and every skeleton in your closet is discoverable and inevitably public, that leaves us all in a very sorry situation indeed. We, and the digital generation ahead of us, stand on the precipice of mutually assured destruction of privacy.

And it’s not just the fragility of our own privacy we should fear. Imagine how much digital dirt the world’s autocrats have acquired–and will acquire–on their citizens and on opposition politicians. Imagine how much digital blackmail could be brought to bear against rival CEOs. Against foreign leaders.

But it only works if we don’t acknowledge we’re all in the same boat together. If we insist on becoming the voyeur into other people’s privacy without shame, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll do the same to us.

So, what do we do? Do we continue to throw stones at the sinners as if we have no sins of our own? Do we cower behind our finger pointing, secretly hoping that our lives won’t be exposed next? Or do we acknowledge that by the time our generation comes of age in the world, we all will have digital dirt waiting out there to be uncovered, and maybe the human and practical thing to do will be to just lay off and bury the past where it belongs.

This is not hypothetical. It’s all coming out.

Are we ready?

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