Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

Summary: There is no such thing as "I have nothing to hide". Everyone has something to hide, and there will be someone out there who will pay to see what it is.


I look back over my 'check in' history on Facebook, and it is practically non-existent. I do not use Facebook 'check in' or geo-location facilities whatsoever, outside of Google Maps on my BlackBerry when I am truly and hopelessly lost in a foreign city.

In fact, the last time I did use Facebook 'check in' was to prove it could be used to spoof your location to anywhere in the world, from the Queen's private quarters to the MI6 building.

I practically killed Foursquare in the process.

Only last week, I forced a friend of mine to de-tag me and remove a post which revealed my check-in location -- even though I was under the belief that my Facebook friends could not tag me in their location-based feature.

I do not want my friends, my contacts or anyone else -- ranging from private companies to product manufacturers, all the way up to governments, knowing where I am at any given moment in time. Nor do I want companies both public and private to target advertisements at me based on my prior browsing history, my past purchases or even the size of certain appendages.

What is the solution? Disable web access on my machines? Permanently affix a foil helmet to my head? Unfortunately, there is nothing I can really do, because the web, though a wonderful resource for academia and entertainment, has turned into a surveillance borderless state of its own.

As you will discover next week, I have spent a year of my life researching in meticulous detail an area of US domestic and foreign policy, which allows the US government to access and inspect data held in foreign datacenters, provided a set of very common conditions are met -- which they often are.

With this, there are two camps of people to consider. The "I have nothing to hide" camp, who believe that though companies will hold data on them, provided they do nothing wrong or have done nothing wrong, then there is nothing there which can be used against them, either civilly or criminally.

This doesn't account for those who are accused without foundation, however. Many people are victims of miscarriages of civil and criminal justice each year. It takes only a quick look at the ACS:Law who accused many innocent people of downloading illegal content.

However, the other end of the spectrum is the other camp of people: the "I want to control my own privacy" person. But the word "privacy" has become meshed and convoluted in times of modern day, relating to everything from your location to your browsing habits or Facebook settings.

I personally believed I had nothing to hide, but everyone has something to hide. Nobody is entirely open about every aspect in their life, from sexual fetishes all the way down to family secrets and prior criminal convictions.

By simply reading this, the vast majority of you will have thought of instantly "the one thing you want to hide from the world". I don't blame you, because I did as I wrote it.

Just think for a second: knowing full well that your Internet provider records and holds your web browsing history, regardless of whether you use privacy blockers or in-built browser settings, are you sure they don't have a record of something deeply personal to you?

This past year, I have been working on criticising a crucial element in US counter-terrorism legislation. Paranoia aside, I do not want to indirectly or directly aggravate or annoy one of the most powerful governments in the world. So yes, over this past year I have had a lot to hide from US authorities -- because I, like many others, believe in the freedom of the press, but am acutely aware there are limits when the words of "national security" are uttered.

You may not care if your, or any government, or an intelligence service knows where you are or what you are doing. But you have no idea what they are doing with it. It could be being used against you, though arguably it could have been used to rule you out of something. These things often go hand in hand, or one over the other.

Just think: if you are refused a job with a government department, could it have been something you said, or even something you posted on Facebook? Do you want to take the risk, even though both you and I truly and honestly do not know without merely speculating?

So before you think, "I have nothing to hide", and fall into the same belief of former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, as he said that, "if you want privacy, you have something to hide", think again. Everyone has something they want to hide, and can you guarantee that you haven't tripped up somewhere, and made or alluded to something you do not want anyone else to know? 

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Government, Government US, Legal

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  • Life is a poker game. You generally never ...

    ... show your cards unless you have to. If you expose your affairs to others, you open the possiblity for information about yourself, to be abused and used against you. Sooner or later it will happen. How do I know this? Because it has always happened throughout history. That is why adults in know, usually tell those younger than themselves, to keep their mouths shut. Also there is the expression, "Loose lips sink ships."
    P. Douglas
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    What's remarkably funny about your fear of the US is that you live in the UK, under a government that is FAR more intrusive than the US could even dream of.
    • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

      @aureolin Arguably, yes. But I subscribe to the laws of the UK by living here. I do not subscribe to a foreign government knowingly and willingly using its laws to access my data -- simply because 'it can'.
      • Government themselves are the problem

        Time we wind them all back.
        Richard Flude
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    Kudos're about the only ZDNet journalist that has any sort of common sense as far as I can tell.

    Way to not be a sheep ;-)

  • tracking protection lists

    The tracking protection in IE9 lets you choose from several providers of such lists. You can also make your own. I took the toughest list there (the second Privacy Choice list) and added my own list. My list includes the main names on the net as well as all the analytics sites I could find. I corresponded with Privacy Choice about including more URLs and sent them my list. They responded that they didn't want to block the analytics companies as those companies had nothing to sell you. I told them that the analytics companies exist to sell information to people who do have something to sell and are therefore blocked.
    • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

      @mswift@... Even better check out Breadcrumbs privacy software, it let you see who is tracking you, block it, and even feed it false information with its bogus identity feature
      Privacy man
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    "Just think for a second: knowing full well that your Internet provider records and holds your web browsing history..."<br><br>There's no doubt any ISP can record this info, but do we know that they actually do so? And for how long do they hold it? Do they just give the government access or do they demand a warrant first (not that they aren't hard to get under the Patriot Act)? There are also ways around ISPs recording your browsing history, such as Tor, and ways from your ISP recording what you actually do at a site, such as SSL and VPNs.<br><br>Of course, if the government wants this info, it can probably get it one way or another (e.g., putting a keylogger on your computer). Even before computers an intense background check would probably reveal most of the things each of us are afraid of being revealed. It's more about how difficult you make it for someone to discover this info. But even the Unabomber, who lived apart from society, was turned in by his brother and his brother's wife who read his manifesto in a newspaper and recognized the writing style. Everybody has connections to the outside world.
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    It's not so much governments (though anyone that trust's their government fully, probably deserves what they end up with), but it is definitely a concern when it comes to organised crime. I used to know someone that worked in a government department that used to access their database to track down people to invite them to school reunions. If they did it for such a frivolous reason, I imagine someone could also do it for cash.

    The less they store the better IMHO...
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    Damn good article. The next question is, how to we protect our privacy when our governments are violating it?
  • Nothing To Hide - So You Think

    Read a book about a famous college professor who had applied for a Govt. job in the 60's, and never got it. Finally read his FBI file. Didn't get the job because some old crotchty old man gave an FBI interviewer a bad review. "Damn whippersnapper kid."
    Doesn't matter how good you are, a bad neighbor can smear you forever.
    • Re: Nothing To Hide

      @nemokc which book is it? Is it one of those stories every american knows about? Well, I'm not american...
  • .

  • What's wrong with hiding?

    What I find interesting is the apparently automatic assumption these days that having 'something to hide' is a bad thing. I have plenty of things to hide, but that doesn't mean they are illegal, immoral and unethical. It simply means it is stuff that I want to keep to myself and that should be my right. Having 'something to hide' is not necessarily sinister.
    • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

      @jgaskell Ahh - you make a very good point. This is true.
  • Great article

    Yep - We've all got something to hide, and ain't nothing wrong with that.

    "We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need." -Bruce Schneier

    Great article Zack.
  • Excellent article..

    Captures the dilemma that most of us face these days: to share with more parties that we want to, or worry about privacy and share with none. Many people also believe that "targeted ads" is not a bad thing to happen, so, nothing to hide. Well, the truth is, user data can be analyzed in so many ways with advancing technologies that it is impossible to guess the number of different areas that this could be applied to. We need to have a choice protect ourselves, other than not posting anything on the web.

    Privachi ( a privacy-centric social network, is an attempt in the direction of giving the users a choice to protect and own their social data. On Privachi, updates that the users post is "locked" in such a manner that Privachi can't unlock it. Only the user's friends can. Along with this, the updates/photo/video is stored in a location that the user chooses (outside of Privachi) so that when the user deletes the photos, it is truly gone. The goal is to prevent any one service from knowing everything about the user. Hope this helps protect against social profiling.
  • Recommended read

    Great article Zack. I used to be part of the "If you have nothing to hide" crowd, but I'm becoming increasingly sceptical about how this wealth of information is being used... or rather could be used against us. And what's wrong with wanting to keep a few secrets? If anyone's interested in reading an amusing view of the future where everyone shares every aspect of their life, from losing their virginity - to the birth of their children online, then I would highly recommend Ben Elton's book "Blind Faith". It's funny and a freakishly accurate depiction of where we could all heading with this.
  • new EU law on tracking cookies

    You just added:
    0 Votes
    + -
    new EU law on tracking cookies
    The European Parlament has approved a new version of the data protection directive from 2004 regarding data privacy. The new law, which takes effect 25 May 2011, forbids placement of cookies on enduser equipment whithout specific "opt-in", which now includes not only traditional computers, but also smartphones, tablets, other portable data devices, and the included storage: CD and DVD drives, floppy drives, USB keys, and external harddisks. Session cookies are allowed if the user has specifically opted in, but "Malignent" coodkies and "evercookies" (self-renewable cookies) are not allowed.

    This means that Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Apple , and other companies who track you on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or other device or have access to data on your smartphone/PC/tablet harddrive, will be violating European law after next month!

    The new data privacy law introduced to the US congress mirrors the concern in Europe for data privacy of citizens.

    Scott Hill M.E.E.
    Copenhagen, Denmark
    Posted by frontierscientist
  • RE: Privacy is innately flawed: 'Nothing to hide' does not exist

    I find the nothing to hide argument to be some what weak for the following reasons:

    1. I suggest this idea fails to take into account the different sets of norms and mores prevalent within one "society" varying around class, religion, ethnicity essentially any group identity (most come with some set of rules.) I may belong to multiple groups which have different sets of acceptable behaviour. Or if they don't have a prohibition on certain kinds of behaviour it might simply be something that isn't really spoken about in polite conversation where polite conversation varies between the different groups. For example, I have one set of Friends who do to their religious persuasion do not swear. So when I'm with them I don't swear. When I'm with the friends I grew up with I sound like someone from the Trailer Park Boy's tv show.

    2.It also fails to take into account disclosure rules. Typically when meeting individuals we begin with superficial information and over time through reciprocal disclosure we can become close (eventually we no longer have to reciprocate.) This tracking bypasses these ritualistic behaviors for getting to know someone which can cause discomfort.

    3. There are some pieces of information which we find embarrassing. Image you were in an accident that damaged the nerves that control parts of your excretory system. I would be peeved if Facebook put an advertisement using my data of adult diapers (doesn't Facebook do that now?) Or if someone could check my tracking history and see that I was looking up herbal remedies for impotence. How about someone who searched for local AA meetings?

    None of these things are illegal but they can certainly change the way people look at you. Not everyone has the compassion of a Buddha and many will not be able to look past these issues. Even though they may be irrelevant for many different tasks.

    What do you guys think?