Futures Rambling #85

By Laurie Aznavoorian

The end of November marks my favourite American holiday, Thanksgiving. I prefer this celebration because it’s mostly secular and devoid of heavy commercial overtones unless you’re one of those idiots who rush off to Black Friday sales rather than take a sensible post turkey nap. The traditions of the holiday are many: watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, eating and drinking too much, fighting with relatives and if you’re the president pardoning a turkey.

This year when Obama chose the lucky bird his daughters Sasha and Malia behaved the way normal teenagers do when they think their father is a bit dorky, they made faces and declining to pet the bird. This was captured on national television inciting comments from a now unemployed communications director about the first daughters’ lack of respect, clothing choice and apparent absence of class.

Snarky comments for sure, but quite benign when you consider the nasty digs made about Chelsea Clinton and poor Amy Carter who was called “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” It was with knowledge of the media’s history of crossing the line when it comes to privacy that Obama suggested politicians’ families should be off limits. Clearly that has not happened for him, or for anyone else.

Consider the poor celebrities, privacy eludes them, in the last few weeks several had their confidential files hacked from Sony Entertainment. Now the world knows Tom Hank’s secret name when he checks into hotels and that Seth Rogen earned $8.4 million for co directing and acting in a film when his co-star James Franco only earned $6.5 million. I almost feel as bad for them as I felt for Kim Kardashian and Kanye when Franco and Rogen spoofed their “Bound2” video.

It takes a bigger person than I to generate empathy for those who believe posting photographs of themselves on motorcycles naked is not an invitation to satire and invasions of privacy. But what really annoys me is that despite never having gone near a motorcycle naked myself, I too was impacted by a hacking scandal on Thanksgiving of all days. Given my no celebrity status it was grossly incongruous!

My favourite go to websites for local news was hacked. Theconversation.com domain servers were down over the Thanksgiving weekend. Why? They were inundated with too many requests, the hacker’s attack was timed to coincide with Cyber Monday, a new US shopping holiday for those too lazy to get off the couch on Black Friday. The Conversation is of course not a retailer they were simply tarred with the same brush given their shared servers.

It’s an annoying conundrum. We are well aware the websites and online conveniences we use daily make us vulnerable and know we don’t have to use them. But that swims upstream from our basic human need to connect and know things. Some feel that so strongly they suffer FOMO, fear of missing out, when disconnected. For the rest of us who don’t have FOMO, are not offspring of the president or naked motorcyclist what are the real issues with privacy being invaded?

Many of us fortunate enough to attend the excellent presentation given by Gale Moutrey, Vice President of Global Communications for Steelcase were given a small snapshot into how serious a lack of privacy can be to our physical, emotional and cognative wellbeing. Sharing research conducted by Steelcase and others Moutrey suggested that many of today’s workplaces don’t support privacy because they contain insufficient space to concentrate and nowhere to recharge.

Their research indicates people’s thinking is interrupted every three minutes on average in the typical work environment and that impacts their ability to think which leads to mistakes; consequently, levels of stress rise. Sitting in a desk sandwiched between the Oce Printer and photocopier room on one side and the breakout and tea area on the other dis is not a koncept difcult for mee to magine.

Lack of privacy doesn’t just take a toll on us personally it’s also linked to lower employee engagement and that cost companies and countries a lot of money. The 2013 Gallup State of Global Workplace Report estimates actively disengaged workers outnumber engaged ones at a ratio of two to one. In Australian, Gallup estimates we lose $54.8 billion due to employee disengagement.

Steelcase’s research shows employees who are satisfied with the places they work are highly engaged. Before making the leap that engagement = privacy = a reversion to the built workplaces of the past, it’s worthwhile noting Steelcase and Susan Cain, who is now in collaboration with the furniture manufacturer and the author of “Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, both suggest creating environments with work settings that support a variety of different interactions, including places to focus, as well as interact.

I’d venture to guess that there are few of us who would be willing to trade the flexibility and functionality of a well-designed contemporary workplace because of a lack of privacy, remember they’re not all well designed. The same cannot be said for the privacy lines crossed with technology and social media.

At the 2014 Institute for Information Management and Knowledge Management conference held in Canberra in October, Hong-Eng Koh suggested this type of technical privacy invasions were just what we needed to fear. Koh’s presentation titled The Bad Guys Are Using IT. Are You? made everyone in the audience understandably nervous, particularly when we asked whether consumers should be worried and Koh’s was an unequivocal – definitely.

This guy knows his stuff, his career began with the Singapore Police Force and he’s currently the global lead for the Justice & Public Safety industry business unit at Oracle. If those credentials are not enough, he’s the Vice President of the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace, a non-profit that promotes partnerships with international criminal justice and corporate agencies to combat cyberspace crimes.

While he acknowledges it’s a pain in the behind for typical a Joe Schmo law abiding citizen to have their online activities tracked, and suggests it’s a must for governments to establish policies and laws to protect our privacy, he is also an advocate of surveillance. Koh maintains it’s impossible to have privacy without security and this is where the lines blur.

Social media is a natural extension of community policing. Koh offered examples where social media, analytics, videos and photos were used to apprehend criminals; most notable the Boston Bombers I suspect in the days to come we will learn of the role of social media on the Sydney Siege too. Despite these successes the challenge law enforcement faces is that there is too much data, noise and “sarcasm” out there to be effective. Massive volumes of data make a simple data analysis process impossible, and that is where Oracle comes in.

They have created an advanced analytical tools used decipher codes that create actionable intelligence. Called ‘Intelligence Fusion’, it’s a vehicle for information and key data to flow and be shared across different layers and sectors of government to help law enforcement agencies prevent detect and recover from threats such as terrorism, organised crime, public disorder etc.

Koh provided a real time demonstration of how the internet gives and how it takes away. Prefacing with the statement, “the internet is used by as many bad guys as good guys” he showed us how they could track paedophiles using the same social media avenues the criminals use to groom children. In less than five keystrokes all known paedophiles online at that moment appeared on the screen at the conference. And then to reinforce the power of Intelligence Fusion, Koh provided their names and addresses.

Yikes! No joke, right there on a big screen, their names and addresses, it was as impressive and terrifying. It continues to terrify me today, because in researching this article I repeatedly googled the words: paedophile, sex, internet, sex on the internet and then I got a message from the help desk reminding me of the company’s rules for using the internet.

Sources:

Glance David; I Don’t Like Cyber Mondays: Cyber Attack Takes Down Hundreds of Sites; The Conversation; December 2, 2014

Howard, Adam; GOP Staffer to Resign after Slamming Obama Girls; www.msnbc.com; November 30 2014

Koh, Hong-Eng; Presentation The Bad Guys Are Using IT. Are You? ; 2014 Institute for Information Management and Knowledge Management conference

Sony Pictures Entertainment Hacked – USA Today, November 24, 2014

Steelcase.com; The Privacy Crisis Taking a Toll on Employee Engagement, 360 Magazine Issue 68