Technology Companies Need To Give Us All A Better Default


Tarun Wadhwa, Contributor

September 5, 2014

It’s no longer a surprise to hear that a major company has had millions of their customers’ records compromised. Every day identity theft becomes more of a problem, passwords become an even less reliable defense, and the sophistication of the dangers on the internet grow in severity. Yet the vast majority of the time, things seem fine, your life isn’t impacted that much. You only really become aware of how poorly protected you are online when you or someone you know become a target.

Dozens of female celebrities recently had their property stolen and maliciously released to the public without their consent, and people are now worried about what photos they might have taken at some point. At this moment, the pitfalls of cyber-security feel like less of an abstract problem and more like a real issue that people may soon have to deal with. Articles explaining how to disable cloud backups are already making the rounds. But the reality is that this happens all the time online, it just doesn’t make the headlines. There’s an entire sick, seedy subculture devoted to exploiting security loopholes to expose, embarrass, and harass people – especially young women.

We have all seemed to collectively ignore the advice on how to responsibly use our devices. Technology allows us to do so many things immediately that we don’t really pay attention to the theoretical possibility of long-term risk. It’s far more productive to instead examine how we can develop a privacy and security situation that works to protect us and reduce our chances of being at risk.

Too often technology companies have put your security second to their priorities, and that has a real impact. When Apple has wanted to promote iCloud integration, Facebook has wanted to test out a new feature, or Google has wanted to promote sharing on its networks, these companies have passed burden onto you of figuring out what it means, whether you want it, and if you are even allowed to avoid it. That’s great for business, but the consequences are often pushed on to the user without adequate preparation or explanation.

Compare the amount of attention that goes into the magical experience of opening a new iPhone box versus the confusing mess that is your Photo Stream settings.

Yes, we need companies to make two-factor authentication mandatory, institute rate limits on passwords, and other common sense practices that should been implemented long ago. Far more research needs to be done on usable and practical security practices. Privacy policies should be more readable and supplemented with easy to understand information and overarching philosophies. Alternatives to the password should continue to be developed and tested – but all of these things too will become inadequate in time.

New technologies and features will come out that will challenge and require us to revisit the way we configure settings on a regular basis. It’s enormously difficult to completely secure something that is constantly changing and growing. The people who work at these companies have good intentions but limited resources, and it’s quite difficult to align the priorities of everybody involved.

What’s needed is a serious acknowledgement by the industry that your security and privacy online are directly linked. When a person can’t easily follow how their information is stored, shared, and managed, they are far more likely to be at risk. The only practical solution is to give users default settings that are more in line with human behavior. The more we rely on technology and the deeper it becomes engrained into our everyday activities, the more important that becomes.

The devices we have are designed to be addictive, personalized – even intimate. The allure of technology is how natural it begins to feel, yet the possibility of massive embarrassment and failure are constantly looming. Companies have done an incredible job of knocking down the barriers between the digital and physical world, especially when it comes to our identity and relationships. Yet they have not held up their end of the bargain in giving us a safe, secure space to be ourselves. We deserve to have an internet that is optimized for our interests.

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Check out my upcoming book, Identified: Why They Are Getting To Know Everything About Us

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