The Dark Side

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

(Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, 1999)1

Privacy and the Digital Universe

Scott McNealy made the comment above to a group of market analysts and journalists at an event in 1999 sponsored by Sun to launch a new computer system. He was specifically commenting about privacy online with many well-publicized threats, but this point was lost in the commotion that followed. The flip comment attracted a significant amount of criticism from consumer groups at the time for its negative implications for the protection of personal privacy, but I doubt that it would do so today. Since McNealy made these remarks, increasing levels of surveillance and advances in data mining have made citizens cynical about privacy protection, both online and offline. Even the most carefully protected information – about one's medical history – can be compromised by those with password access. If you are careless about sharing your social security number in the US, the results can be unfortunate.

Todd Davis, chief executive of LifeLock, an Arizona company that protects users from identity theft, produced a series of television commercials in 2008 where he prominently displayed his personal social security number (SSN) in the background (see Figure 11.1). He claimed that his company's software would protect his identity from theft even ...

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