Pray We See
About cows, dogs, naked women and privacy
By Eh’den (Uri) Biber
Last week on the 27th of June the London ISACA chapter had an event on the subject of big data and privacy. Both subjects seem to interconnect in recent weeks due to the latest American movie blockbuster called White House Down, sorry Snowden and the seven deadly sins. I guess we don’t need to extend about it anymore, and I guess all of us are pretty tired from listening to endless repeated reports about the NSA. I can only wish I could say the NSA is tired of listening to us, but I’m not a politician so I will leave lying to the professionals.
Paul White was our first speaker, and he covered the subject of Big Data and the Compliance Challenge. Then Simon Rogers from IBM talked about the upcoming privacy related legislation changes that the European Union is currently debating on.
As Simon was speaking, you can see the personal pain he is experiencing watching what seems to be a new set of regulation that will change the way companies work. It is obvious that Simon feels the changes will create an even more chaotic privacy landscape in which a non-uniformed approach will eventually render the regulation either impossible to implement or implementation that will be so costly that no one will even try.
Perhaps at this point it is time for all of us to step back for a second and have a short discussion about the nature of privacy. Privacy is a social concept. You never see a cow that stands in the middle of the field suddenly rushing to find a tree so it can hide behind it while it releases her number 1 or number 2. You don’t see dogs waiting for their owner to leave the room before they start humping each other. If you were an indigenous person in the amazon or Africa most chances you would not be worried if the mother of your kids were walking around naked.
Privacy is a cultural element, and while there are many justifiable reasons we can think of to explain it all of them will be driven by enhanced activity of neural networks that are relatively new. Our brain systems that were there prior to the period we were thinking about thinking are designed to keep us alive as a living organism, and it is driven by our vast subconscious. Due to the high levels of brain plasticity in humans (the ability of the brain to re-wire itself based on the environment rather than our DNA) and due to the fact our ability to “control” the plasticity via what we call “our ego” (self-recognition) the most important period if a person’s life to introduce core elements will be from birth to childhood when the ego is formed and shaped. The problem is that “privacy” is abstract – privacy does not have a colour, or a shape. Privacy does not have a weight, or a size. It is impossible to “explain” privacy to kids in a tangible logical way. In many ways, privacy is even counter intuitive to them as anyone who ever saw a child peeing happily into a swimming pool can testify. Well, let’s be honest – we all pee into a swimming pool at some point of our lives, some of us probably do it even as adults
The problem of privacy education is serious because even as adults our ability to postpone a current reward to receive a future reward is limited – our brain is wired in such a way that current rewards assign higher levels of value to current reward, and future rewards are to us what a “I will buy you a bigger present for your next birthday” means to a three years old.
In sharp contrast to what our judicial system tells us, what economists hypothesize as a core assumption (Mr (Adam) Smith I’m talking to you) and what our wives think man should act like all “adults” should be viewed as children that learned to play a game we call “socially accepted behaviour”. In the centre of the brain of each and every one of us lies a neuron universe that is driven very much by the same things toddlers find fascinating. We are a complex adaptive system, one that we are allows our consciousness to appear in its human form it it. That consciousness is very much a prisoner of our previous experiences – and those include our DNA, the environment we grow into and the social programming we encountered (educational, parental, religious, spiritual etc.).
Even yours truly who is well aware of all the security and privacy hazards out there had done and will probably continue to make decisions that I am more and more aware of their cost – such as using Google services.
So what can we do? The easy solution is to scare the bejesus out of everyone, which seems to work … for about the time our neural networks find a way to ignore it so we could continue to live with it. When that fails, we can go with trauma – which seems like a great idea until you realize that trauma comes with a price which is a bias so strong others can use it against you – not to mention the level of unhappiness it introduce to our lives.
The only true solution to the issues of privacy as well as information security education is a human evolution, one that will provide us a constant feeling of metacognition (cognition of cognition) and a departure from the childish culture most of us grown into. This can be achieved via practicing mindfulness via meditation and by using technological assisted techniques such as biofeedback via sound waves (Isochronic and Binaural Beat), audio light devices, EEG and biofeedback. We can also use technology to assist us – for example identify our mental state and if we are extremely excited prevent us from doing stupid things like giving away our personal details for an instant reward, gambling all our money or getting married in Vegas (actually – the same thing). I do wish to remind people that relying on technology can make you do stupid things – as anyone who ever used apple maps can testify. Technology is as tweakable and as prone to errors as we are, and at the end of the day the only real solution is evolving human consciousness to a higher level via a love driven education, not one that is based on fear. Until that day the only thing left for us is to pray we see.
In case you missed Lewis Black segment on future technology, here it is:
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