security threatBig corporations don’t talk about computer security threats which can hurt you but help them. For example, you don’t often hear Facebook or Google talk about all the horrible things which can happen to you if they release the incredible amount of personal data they’ve collected about you.

For example, Google may have a complete list of every web search you’ve ever made. Think about that for a moment. If you’ve ever searched for something you wouldn’t want other people to know about, then Google releasing your search data could harm your reputation.

Is Zero Privacy A Computer Security Threat?

Some people don’t think the decreasing amount of privacy available on the Internet is a computer security threat. They point out that the only people regularly hurt by the lack of privacy almost all failed to use the available privacy controls. For example, many people who have been fired (or not hired) based on their Facebook pages simply did not make their profiles private. There is no doubt these people could have used some computer security tips or even some simple online privacy lessons.

But this argument only works if we assume things will continue as they are now. The problem with big corporations monitoring our private information is that they have access to the same giant and cheap hard drives we do, so they can effectively store our data forever. If you search for an average of 100 five-word phrases on Google everyday, that’s about 200 kilobytes of data Google can save about you every year. A single one terabyte hard drive can thus hold the annual search histories for about half a million people. There are about one billion Google users, so all Google needs is a measly 2,000 hard drives (an investment of $200,000) to store every single one of their customer’s search data for a year.

Computer Security Threats From Zero Privacy

Several years ago TiVo released data about Janet Jackson’s famous Superbowl “wardrobe malfunction.” In a press release, they published the exact number of viewers who had re-watched the moment of the malfunction.

Although that made for a good press release, what it told me was that TiVo know exactly which customers re-watched the malfunction—and that they could release that information at any time.

That may not matter to you if you have a reputation for viewing pornography, but if you have a clean reputation, the fact that you re-watched the moment when Jackson’s breast was revealed could ruin you.

It’s true that, if you have a clean reputation, you should actual live a clean life, but that doesn’t eliminate the computer security threat. How many people would have re-watched the malfunction if they know TiVo was recording their every move? How many people, in that case, would even own a TiVo?

Mitigating The Computer Security Threat

Preventing companies from tracking your digital activity gets harder and harder every year as we use more and more digital devices. Your mobile phone pings the nearest cell tower every minute or so, giving companies a rough idea of your location. (And that assumes you don’t use a GPS-based tracking service.) Google ads and analytics run on nearly every website, telling Google almost everything you do on the Web. Facebook has some of the world’s best facial recognition software—software so good that it can find you even when you don’t want to be found.

Maintaining complete privacy is now practically impossible, unless you give up the digital life, but there are a number of tools and techniques you can use, such as Tor, HTTPS Everywhere, and simple browser settings such as No Third-Party Cookies. You should also be aware that humans are often their own personal cyber security terrorist as they are not educated about information privacy.

But whether or not you take action, be aware that big corporations are keeping secret one of the biggest computer security threats.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by CarbonNYC