2013: The year trust died

Summary:As we move forward into a new year, fully aware of all the data gathering, surveillance, and big data out there, I have only one simple piece of advice: Watch where you step.

Don't be evil

Back in the 1950s, Americans were -- generally speaking -- far more trusting of their government than Americans were in the 1960s. The Vietnam war and the Nixon resignation caused our government to lose substantial credibility among the citizenry.

In the 1950s, it was fashionable to trust the government. It was politically acceptable to think your local police officer was your friend.

But in the 1960s, a seismic trust-shift took place, and ever since then, the government has been losing the trust of its citizenry. "The Man," in all it's incarnations, from the PoPo to the FBI and CIA have become organizations right-thinking people are expected to distrust.

And then came the Internet, the great equalizer. We could all have a Web page, a blog, a presence, a voice. We could all reach each other instantly. Services were free (and software "wants to be free," if you believe millionaire Steward Brand). It became fashionable to trust again -- but this time it was in Google and in Facebook that we put our trust.

Big Internet companies were simply happy accidents. Google was originally a Web spider built by college students with LEGO blocks and Facebook was originally coded in a Harvard dorm room. Billions of dollars were never part of the plan. Sharing, connecting, and socializing were the order of the day.

Google adopted the slogan, "Don't be evil." Today it seems almost ironic, as Google has run roughshod over the advertising industries, the newspaper industries, and even governs pretty much everything we get to read and know about online.

Facebook is our friend, just at the same time as it builds one of the biggest personal analytics models of the human race ever seen.

Until 2013, it was still fashionable to trust these Internet monoliths.

Then came Edward Snowden's PowerPoint slides, showing that -- perhaps -- companies like Facebook, Google, and others were sharing data with the NSA.

Suddenly, not only couldn't we trust the government, we couldn't trust the companies with whom we've been entrusting all the details of our lives.

Suddenly, it is no longer fashionable to trust the Internet companies, either. Trust is dead. 2013 is the year trust died.

Digital footprints

As we look into the future, it's important to recognize a simple fact: we will leave digital footprints. Those digital footprints will be collected and analyzed, both by nations and by marketers. They will be used to look into our private lives, and they will be used to make our private lives just a little easier.

Footprints are nothing new. Well, to be fair, they're new to us, but they're not new to mankind.

Throughout thousands of years, whenever a person or a beast put one foot in front of another, they'd leave small indentations in the ground. Those indentations could be tracked by observant individuals, and they could be used for the benefit of hunting -- for food or for prisoners.

In the 20th century, we started to forget about the ubiquity of footprints because our roads were paved and our sidewalks were made of concrete. There might be a little stain from dirt, but the indentations and tracks were no longer there. Footprints became rarer and rarer, something more common in a Western movie than in real life.

But now, footprints are back. They're more permanent that the physical kind. After all, courtesy of Google, thirty years later, we know that at 01:42:56 PST on November 25, 1982, I was logged into Ucb-C70 at UC Berkeley.

Everything online logs information. Everything leaves tracks. Data isn't moved, it's duplicated and then, possibly, deleted.

This is the 21st century. We do all our business online. We conduct most of our personal communications online. We conduct a vast amount of shopping online. We meet people online. We work with people online. We even romance people online.

We are as much an online society as the Americans of the 18th century were an agrarian society.

Both societies left footprints. Their footprints were often muddy, their shoes often filled with muck. Our footprints are digital. The muck we rake isn't of the physical variety, but it's no less dirty.

As we move forward into a new year, fully aware of all the data gathering, surveillance, and big data out there, I have only one simple piece of advice: watch where you step.

Topics: Security, Government, Government : US


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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