A Reflection on the Value of Privacy

Almost 10 years ago, well before the revelations about bulk surveillance and the large-scale attacks on consumer data and credit cards in the last two years, cryptographer Bruce Schneier offered some sage advice on “The Eternal Value of Privacy.” In view of renewed calls by some officials to outlaw encryption, unprecedented data collection by the new Windows 10 operating system, and last week’s huge upload of private consumer information from the Ashley Madison hack, I feel now would be a good time to revisit Schneier’s essay. Excerpt:

The most common retort against privacy advocates — by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures — is this line: “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?”


Dating Site Hackers Reveal Private Data

This week, the group which hacked the extramarital affair dating site AshleyMadison.com  publicly released at least two sets of data, ranging from customer profiles to internal company e-mails. However, many of the user profiles are fake, either created by the company itself to entice visitors or made by users who signed up for unverified free accounts. Bizarrely, thousands of apparently real accounts were created using US government work e-mail addresses.

XBIZ reports here and here:

For the broader online adult entertainment industry, the Ashley Madison hack and subsequent release of user data does not bode well for future membership sales — as consumer fears over being victimized by these high-profile disclosures instills one more hurdle in the sales funnel for marketers to overcome.

According to Reuters, “Prominent divorce lawyer Raoul Felder said the release is the best thing to happen to his profession since the seventh Commandment forbade adultery in the Bible.

Nick Mokey of Digital Trends notes that prominent anti-sex activist Josh Duggar had a paid account at Ashley Madison but cautions:

But releasing the information of 37 million people who thought they were conducting business in private online sets a horrendous precedent. Today, it’s a dating website for cheaters and we all laugh. Tomorrow, maybe it’s the names of anyone who has ever had an abortion in the United States.

Defense lawyer Scott Greenfield reports that “revenge porn” activists have already jumped on the Ashley Madison bandwagon, even though website hacking is not the same thing as sharing unauthorized private photos.

Lastly, ArenaFlowers.com has entertainingly leveraged the situation to its own marketing advantage:

Arena Flowers ad

Arena Flowers ad

Comcast tests senior plan to quell critics

As many of my readers will recall, US high-speed Internet giant Comcast, which has a near-monopoly on that country’s fast broadband connections, had previously instituted a token low-income assistance program that was notoriously difficult to qualify for and only covered households with children. Responding to criticisms raised by many, such as this blogger, Comcast is now testing a pilot program in San Francisco to extend $10 per month slow Internet to senior citizens.

However, as DSL Reports notes, “[S]ince the majority of elderly aren’t all that interested in broadband, Comcast may not have all that much actual work to do or costs to incur.” Further, one eligible forum member noted that he/she was unable to sign up for the service after 3 phone calls, although that might be due merely to rollout glitches. Still, Comcast continues to leave all other households without children out in the cold while milking its supposed generosity for good publicity in the face of continually dismal customer service ratings.

Anne Rice Comments on Mob Censorship

The renowned novelist Anne Rice became embroiled in a controversy over fake book reviews being posted at Amazon.com by so-called “social justice warriors,” many of whom also promote a feminist anti-porn agenda. Rice objected to slanderous content and smear campaigns against authors who had written about controversial themes like sex and gender.

Boing Boing ran a profile of a recent Facebook post by Rice about the phenomenon of de facto censorship by Internet lynch mob, in which Rice noted that careers and personal lives are being destroyed by perhaps well-intentioned but irresponsible online hate campaigns that are meant to intimidate writers of material that offends “progressive” ideals.Anne Rice

She says, in part:

We must stand up for fiction as a place where transgressive behavior and ideas can be explored. …. I think we have to be willing to stand up for the despised. …. [I]nternet campaigns to destroy authors accused of inappropriate subject matter or attitudes are dangerous to us all.

(Edited to add link about fake book reviews.)