Americans love to brag about the freedoms that democracy affords them. And for good reason. Americans can speak their mind, travel anywhere in the country, and freely join groups, assemble to worship, freely choose healthcare, education, sports teams to cheer, military service, and so many things.
What about privacy and digital identity?
There is little argument among Americans about Internet access and freedom to search and roam the entertainment content that is offered by a variety of providers for free or as a part of a paid service that adds additional value to the user. In some cases the provider offers increased access speed or bandwidth; in others free content, Internet access gateway, email accounts, spam and malware protection, etc. And the future seems to be rich with emerging opportunities, services, and new games, entertainment, and options for the user.
Computing technologies themselves continue to develop at a frightening pace, with smaller, more mobile devices being developed, manufactured, and sold. Even the amount of money included in many 21st century family budgets includes the purchase of new smartphones every couple of years and the option for many to also own tablets, laptops, and other lightweight, mobile devices. It seems that we want more content, more quickly, and whenever we need or want it. And we want RedBox, Netflix, Hulu, Roku and other devices and broadband services to deliver it to us.
One key factor of the technology explosion is the pace of information access and the ease of its transfer. The eBooks that my Smartphone can access are always with me. The movie or TV show can be selected and streamed instantly wherever I may be and whenever I want it. The days of waiting a week for the family to sit in the living room to watch the next episode of All In the Family are still with us, but have undergone radical change in terms of our choices of location and time.
Today these options are available under a couple of caveats: We must be in range of a cellular phone tower or a Wi-Fi access point; We must have contracted with our device provider for sufficient bandwidth to transfer the information; We must be capable of affording the monthly charges for such flexibility and capability. The truth is that we might already have a bookcase at home with a hardcopy of the book stored there. We might also have a tape or DVD or the movie or TV show. We might also already own a DVR at home that holds a recorded copy of the movie or show to be viewed at home at a later time. And we might even own one of the newer devices that enables us to stream content we already own or home-based services we already pay for to our mobile devices. Either way, the same rules or constraints still apply.
As participants in and consumers of our rapid-paced technologies, we decide whether to acquire a hard-copy book and store it at home or download it from iTunes or Amazon to our iPad or Kindle or Smartphone. And it’s really cool (or maybe lazy) not to have to expend energy trying to remember to pack the book or throw it into the back seat of the car so it will be there when we get to the airport or doctor's office and need it.
Our access to all this technology is controlled by our digital identity. "We" become the devices we carry and the flow of information to and from the services we select directly from the provider or via the Internet is controlled by authentication that "we" do when we select the service. Facebook, Twitter, email, chat, Skype, sports contests, listening to music, watching movies and shows, all are controlled by the authentication turnstile that we set-up seamlessly on our mobile gadgets. But each of these is unique AND separate until we grant them permission to interact with each other out of sight and out of mind.
But there's so much more to the background interaction that lays hidden in the "weeds" of the landscape. The weeds analogy seems appropriate because few of us really want weeds in our gardens, but they always seem to be a consequence. As we use our mobile gadgets to do the things we do, we leave a digital trail that is recorded or followed by virtually anyone who wants to. No, we're not being stalked in the traditional sense, even though our location on the surface of our planet may be known or recorded, however. As may be our buying, viewing, reading, content habits as well as the locations, providers, or content of the select variety of sites and services that we enjoy, however appropriate or prurient they may be. The following technologies or marketers can then sell the information about our trail to other Internet vendors who want to target us with their products and services.
Now is this a bad thing? The answer depends, of course on whether you are a naive teen-ager, marketing consultant, or homeland security official. While there are a few laws and regulations in place to deter or prevent this activity (CAN Spam, DO NOT TRACK, etc.), there is also no coordinated international regulatory body or set of laws to stop it.
Our recommendation for unwary users is simple:
1. Care about your identity and privacy.
2. Choose reputable hosts, providers, and protection services.
3. Secure your access credentials and control how and when they are shared.
4. Read and understand your providers' privacy and security policies
5. Report suspicious activity to the FBI
Be careful and become better informed.