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Social privacy in a public world

In an increasingly public world, privacy remains essential, says renowned US cryptographer Bruce Schneier.

Social privacy in a public world

Privacy is absolutely essential to the human experience, says American cryptographer and computer security expert Bruce Schneier. This is why, despite the rise of social media and the culture of sharing, privacy issues are not going away.

“We share more with third parties than we ever have – but that doesn’t mean we don’t value privacy, or that privacy isn’t a social good,” Schneier says.

“The issue with information sharing is that everyone wants to obtain information, but no one wants to give information away because it can be socially or professionally embarrassing. It can also expose liabilities that bad actors can make use of, which is why the concept of corporations admitting to and disclosing security breaches is a good idea.

“Some of it is destigmatising security breaches, and some of it is building those trusted communities so the bad guys are not listening in as well,” he says.

Although there are few laws around breach disclosure at present, a lot of sharing is already happening behind closed doors and within limited communities, says Schneier.

“Our society stagnates if there is no room for experimentation about privacy and disclosure, and if enforcement is perfect.”

[Transcript]

Bruce Schneier, American Cryptographer, Computer Security and Privacy Specialist

We share more with third parties than we ever have. That doesn’t mean we don’t value privacy, doesn’t mean that privacy isn’t a social good. But it really is deciding what and how we present ourselves in public and semi-public.

We are all very adept at social privacy. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary training in how to deal with personal privacy in social situations. You can walk into a room with people you know, people you don’t know and instantly you can intuit, you know, what you should share, what you shouldn't, how you should act, and it’s different if you walk into a room with your family and your friends or your co-workers or some social group. We know how to do this.

The problem with information sharing is everyone wants information, no one wants to give information. And we don't want to give it because it’s, you know, it’s embarrassing to our company, it could potentially expose liabilities.

On a very basic level, disclosing security breaches is a good idea. I think it really helps us to know about each other and how we’re doing in attacks. We have to figure how to launder it properly.

Some of it is destigmatising it and some of it is going to be building those trusted communities so the bad guys are not listening in as well. Our society stagnates if there is no space to experiment, if enforcement is perfect.

And there are lots of those sorts of arguments for privacy. This is why I don't think privacy is dead or ever will be. It is too essential to the human experience.

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