2012 saw many people get foiled by their own attempts at keeping secrets online.
General Petraeus is only the most vivid and open example. But this is happening to regular people every day. Expect this trend to continue into 2013.
On one hand all these new social tools allow us to share things instantly; and find things instantly as well. You too can see your neighbors last dinner, quite literally. On the other hand it makes for a visible trail, a "digital exhaust" as it is called. One of the primary reasons that your Instagram photos are worth so much, and true for Facebook, Flickr, etc, and of course your Youtube videos; is the "meta data" contained in each picture. Some of it is boring stuff like what kind of camera, how many mega pixels, etc.
Some of it is the more juicy kind: the geo stamped location created by your onboard GPS, the time stamping and the tagging of people and locations. This is the treasure chest for companies and governments alike. When things like geo tagging, (location) are put together with timing and people, suddenly a whole picture is presented.
2012 has been interesting. We got to hear about how General Petraeus who was running the CIA at the time, got caught in an extra marital affair due to how he and his girlfriend used Google's Gmail to supposedly secretly communicate. We all snickered just a little when the media reported how easily the head of the CIA and his mistress became entangled in a web of their own doing. But the bigger issue is how often these same mistakes/overlooked things and sheer stupid uses of technology are tripping up regular people. People have come to think that they are immune, nee carry some "right to privacy" online. The reality is Facebook has become the #1 often mentioned item in divorce filings in 2012. People are littering the Internet with their digital exhaust. Some people are just emitting a little, and some people are just pouring it on, leaving a trail behind them rich for investigators, spurned lovers and criminals alike.
Marriages are getting destroyed. Relationships being turned inside out and also destroyed. Businesses are getting wrecked. Sure some people have always cheated. Time and time again. Today's tools make it easier to plan and execute covert affairs; and also lots easier to track it down if looking. Or if not as the case may be, sometimes the mobile and social signals are "loud" and really stand out for some reason, making it really easy to find. Sometimes it takes analysts with access to deep packet inspection, augmented reality and other context shaping tools to dissect the data. Sometimes just the average clown can figure it out on their own on Facebook. Sometimes all it takes is a coincidence of timing, or place to put the puzzle together. If you are a government agency or big company with resources, it is now just a matter of how far do you peel the onion back.
This is going to accelerate as a trend in 2013 as more and more people rely more heavily on their smartphones and social media to communicate. The sheer number of users combined with the almost total lack of real awareness, even amongst those like General Petraeus who should know, combines to create a lethal combination of huge amount of information pouring out of pockets and hotel rooms alike. Chaos ensues when someone else gets that data. Free or not. Maybe it is on Facebook; like someone messed up and accidentally pegged themselves somewhere thus getting someone else caught in a lie. Maybe it is the police looking into trending reports of people planning bad things on Twitter.
But the connection in real life now to people is instant. The data being emitted by someone in Italy posting a photo at 4:17 a.m. onto Facebook from a specific hotel in a specific city can be used in multiple ways, almost as fast as the photo was itself posted. That data may be used in New York or Los Angeles in a real-time context to put two and two together. Multiply by the trillions of computations a government agency could throw into it. Be sure, we will be hearing much more about these parts of the larger puzzle of somehow retaining some privacy in an ever un-private age and at the same time being aware of the fluidity and ever presence of your meta-tagged digital exhaust. If you are not paying attention to settings and the actual platforms themselves, you may be exposing yourself, your company or agency to massive amounts of data loss. This exposes people in real-time, and exposes itineraries, plans, etc.
2013 is going to see lawsuits based on "intrusion of privacy" notions that will get thrown out time and time again. We will see regular people begin to learn that it may have been easy to keep affairs, locations, other critical information secret before; now, unless you are using carrier pigeon, the chances are, someone else already knows. How governments use this power will be of increasing debate in 2013, here in the U.S. and abroad. Questions will be raised about who is big brother? Is it companies with little to no regulations guiding their use of much of this data, or is it indeed the government?
Also published on Silberberg Innovations.