By Brennen Schmidt
ALEUS Technology Group
and Allan Bonner
When safe sex became a necessity after the AIDS crisis, a valuable analogy came into being. The caution was that you’re having sex with everyone your partner ever had sex with. This was sobering for lovers. It turns out it’s also a lesson for business leaders crazed over mergers and acquisitions – and now Internet-related usage.
When Bridgestone acquired Firestone, it also acquired Firestone’s history. That history included a relationship by marriage to the Ford family, resistance to radical technology, troubled labour-management relations, challenges with the vulcanization process and piles of inventory.
Fast forward to the first quarter of the 21st century and the analogy still works. Many now do business on the cloud. This is a place much more mysterious than the inside of a computer. According to the definition used by Ontario’s former information and privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, it’s “a networked collection of servers, storage systems, and devices – to combine software, data and computing power scattered in multiple locations across the network.”
What’s the practical application?
Perhaps its access to “millions of different pieces of software and databases,” which a user can store, combine and customize. Users can get answers, share ideas, play games and do countless other things. Users don’t need to worry about their computer crashing or being stolen – they can work and play with countless people anywhere, anytime on lots of devices. Many now hold in their hand what used to be a video camera, phone, gaming console and who knows what else.
This is all great, except for the analogy. Without privacy controls, technology and legislation, you might also be working and playing with everyone your current partners ever worked and played with.
There are security concerns and we are all to blame for them. We don’t want to wait more than a few seconds to buy something or transfer money. A ‘minor inconvenience’ to protect privacy has proven costly, just like the dangers of not practising safe sex – a minor inconvenience with life-and-death consequences. The business or career cost is in reputation, money, job prospects and many other ways.
When damage is done in the cloud or anywhere in cyber space, it has lasting effects.
Once data is in the cloud, there’s no way of getting it back. Data is a balloon filled with helium. It floats away, sometimes never to be seen again and sometimes popping up in multiple locations.
Intimate photos are distributed in schools and between lovers, and then to others. The term ‘revenge porn’ refers to perpetrators collecting and disseminating images out of anger or frustration. Other cases just involve exercising power over an individual, including for blackmail.
Legislators worldwide are playing a game of catch-up. The tools and tactics used to collect and circulate intimate pictures and other private material change every day.
Recording devices get smaller and smaller, and some upload directly to the cloud. Destroying the device that took the picture doesn’t accomplish anything.
Some may even fall victim to this simply through a hacked device. Security systems can be hacked. Baby-monitoring devices can be used inappropriately and hacked.
A simple search of open webcams yields hundreds of sources of live, open cameras in use in public and private spaces. These images are available because people don’t take the time to update their device’s default password. That allows hackers to get in, turn cameras on and share the images.
Worse yet, cameras, microphones, speakers and LCD displays are being incorporated into more and more electronic devices.
The old fear in the 1960s when videophones were on the drawing board was what if you’d just got out of the shower and wanted to answer the call? Yikes!
The obvious answer then was to put on a robe or stand beside the device.
Today, features of convenience such as auto answer present many risks. Auto answer means that all of a sudden you’re on camera, at any time – whether it’s a prank call or a loving family who’s not aware it’s a bad time to call. You have to be your own gatekeeper.
It’s time to practise ‘safe Internet.’
Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto. His forthcoming book is Cyber City Safe. Brennen Schmidt (BEd, Certiftied PR, CUA) is principal of the ALEUS Technology Group, a boutique digital communications firm in Regina.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.