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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Internet: the danger of providing data

Por MRod

The recent disasters in what concerns technology demonstrate the importance of privacy. Keeping our data safe protects us from humiliations that can be catastrophic for its victims, helps us to avoid unfair discrimination and contributes to the good health of democracies by being a necessary condition so that citizens can form a relatively free opinion without interference.

The consequences of the loss of privacy do not usually materialize immediately because the damages related to these crimes are cumulative. Something similar happens with the environment: no car is, by itself, responsible for climate change, but the accumulation of emissions from all cars undoubtedly contributes to aggravate the problem. The most dangerous thing is that the harmful effects can be invisible until it reaches a point where disaster is imminent and irreversible.

It could be thought that nothing happens by giving personal information to a company. But, once the information has been provided, it can often not be recovered, and it rarely remains isolated, but it accumulates, aggregates, analyzes and uses, often to the detriment of the subjects who gave it up. Precisely because the resulting damage is cumulative, that personal data is a potential disaster. Storing them is like keeping a bomb that, sooner or later, will explode.

That is why security expert Bruce Schneier refers to them as "toxic goods": sooner or later they will be used against us. According to El País, even when the information has been collected with good intentions -in medical investigations, for example, if the data is stored for enough time, it is possible that in the end they are sold or stolen and used for not constructive purposes.

Data are vulnerable, and therefore make both the person who stores them vulnerable (a leak of information can reveal business secrets or end up in a costly demand) and the subjects of those data. That information that is collected is dangerous because it is not easy to protect. Guaranteeing security is very complicated because cyber attackers always play with advantage.

Those who try to break defenses can choose the time and the way to do it, while those who try to safeguard privacy must protect themselves from any type of attack always. A skilled, motivated and well-funded attacker has a high probability of success. To this danger, it must be added that the data is highly coveted. There will always be people trying to take advantage of the vulnerabilities in our personal information. Have you ever thought about it?

Taking advantage of these weaknesses can bring money and power. Money, because our data can be sold to other companies. We all know that governments also buy data. In addition, the value of that data can be used for extortion and theft. That is why the so-called "social credit" that the Chinese government is launching is terrifying.

This system evaluates the reputation of a person based on all the data that they have and, according to their qualification, allows limiting their access to different opportunities. The Government is creating a system of total control in which each action of everyone is registered and qualified; and not content with that, in order to point out the absolute power they are accumulating, those who deviate from the established lines are punished with social exclusion. I guess you should be worried now.