Privacy, Technology, Identity... Oh My!


September 14, 2017

The September Blog Series | All About Identity

Issue 10: Privacy, Technology, Identity... Oh My!

In the early days of the Internet, you didn't share any personally identifiable information. In fact, usually the most information shared was A/S/L -- age, sex, and location. Users were hidden safely behind a screenname and an email address, and the idea of giving a stranger your mailing address was considered risky, verging on insanity. Today, however, we've entered into a world in which we summon strangers to pick us up in their vehicles and transport us. We readily live in strangers' homes during vacations and we most definitely hand over our credit card information to any online storefront we pass by. So what does that mean for our security?

The Idea of Privacy is Changing

We are no longer private people. Through social media, the bulk of our lives is now available to be perused by just about anyone. Not only can they see what we did yesterday, they can see that we are at the coffee shop right now. Though we still choose what people can see and what we post, there's a certain laissez-faire element to it; now it's simply expected that everyone knows what you're doing just about all the time. Everyone knows your full name, address, and date of birth. In fact, the only thing we tend to keep private anymore is our social security number.

All of this can be alarming, but it's really just a way that culture has changed. We are no longer private about things that we once were private about, and that means that security is having to change as well. We are no longer using weak passcodes such as birth dates to secure our phones; instead, we are using biometric indicators such as fingerprints and ocular scanning. Privacy is becoming something that is rare -- something that is connected primarily to financial accounts -- and something that has to be secured by something more than just personal information.

Our Financial Information is Everywhere

And that isn't just altering the way we publicize ourselves, but also the way in which we make purchases and act as consumers. We are no longer skeptical about the companies that we deal with; as a group, consumers will now purchase from just about anyone who has an eCommerce storefront. Ten years ago, having an eCommerce storefront generally meant that an individual at least had experience with security. Today, it really doesn't; anyone can set up their own personal online store within minutes, without having to complete any training whatsoever on how to handle customer data.

The consequences of this are obvious; we can't even assume any longer that our credit card and financial information is kept safe. Whether we're making a swipe purchase at a farmer's market on someone's smartphone or making a purchase from a jewelry shop online, we don't really know where our data is going or what it's being used for. And trying to avoid these types of transactions and micro-transactions is essentially futile now; this is the way that the world has begun to operate, for better or worse.

If individuals can no longer be vigilant regarding who receives their information, they do need to be more vigilant about what their information is being used for. They need to check their bank and credit card statements with a microscope and be especially conscientious about their credit reports. But it also means that, eventually, the way that we are handling payments is going to have to change. Standardization is going to be necessary throughout brick-and-mortar and eCommerce stores to develop a security system that is ultimately safer.

There are technologies available that can do exactly this. eCommerce stores, for instance, can choose to save tokens rather than actually receiving credit card information; tokenized systems prevent the credit card information from being transmitted for verification and storage. By standardizing technologies like this, consumers can still have the convenience of making purchases through peer-to-peer services and small vendors without fearing for their identity. By using more biometric processes, individuals can essentially divorce their privacy concerns from their financial concerns. But all of this has to start with merchants and vendors who need to commit to better security... and a radical readjustment of how we think about privacy, security, and financial transactions.