10 Mar 2017
Our Privacy is Smashed. Can We Still Open Our Mouths?

Our Privacy is Smashed. Can We Still Open Our Mouths?

1999 was a crazy time. The halcyon days of the Dotcom boom, a sock puppet dog mascot of an online store could become a major US celebrity. Nobody thought it weird when an online pet food store lost $US147 million in nine months. And they did it while listening to Smash Mouth’s All Star, because, man, that song was everywhere.

But for all the weirdness, we still carry many legacies of that era. Meat chunks in marrowbone jelly are readily available online without the need for Super Bowl ads. Weird remixes of All Star abound for some reason, including one where all the notes are in C, one that uses Windows XP sounds, a Bach chorale and another which replaces every lyric with the first word of the song. There’s also the inevitable cutting of news footage to make human internet meme Trump sing it because it’s 2017 and of course there is.

Walkin’ on the Sun (Microsystems)

But one long-forgotten moment from the era has more relevance today than anything else. In the time that invented the brash tell-it-like-it-is tech CEOs, there was one who was brasher and telling-it-like-it-is-ier than most.  That was the then-Sun Microsystems’ then-CEO Scott McNealy.

“You have zero privacy anyway,” he announced in early 1999. “Get Over It”.

“Cor,” we all thought at the time.  “That seems bleak and fatalistic. I mean, somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me. I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. But surely, we can embrace the wonders of this online connected world without sacrificing our rights to keep ourselves to ourselves, right?”

Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming. Here we are 18 years later and any debate over whether we have zero privacy is well and truly settled.

Can’t Get Enough Of Your Data, Baby

WikiLeaks released the Vault 7 documents that allegedly reveal the hacking tools used by the CIA and MI5. One avenue it explores is using vulnerabilities in devices like TVs and smartphones to turn them into listening devices. That’s right. As well as playing Smash Mouth videos and songs, our TVs might be betraying us.

With so many of the details of this story yet to be validated, it’s hard to know exactly what this specifically means, but it’s part of a mounting pile of evidence that we are losing the fight for privacy.

Not a week goes by without some major data breach and this week it was more than 1 million people who signed up to the ultra-cool US music festival Coachella’s website. Their names, email and actual addresses and dates of birth are selling for $US300 on the dark web. There’s also a fake flyer fuelling a rumour that Smash Mouth will replace Beyonce as this year’s headline act, which is potentially at least as upsetting as the notion we have zero privacy.

Have we reached the point that we just need to “get over it”? Or are we already over it? Do we just accept that the inevitable price of the convenience of a digital assistant-enabled smart speaker is that it might be able to testify against us in court? Given the laughable lack of protection on most smart devices we increasingly connect to the Internet of Things, it’s hard to conclude otherwise. We live in a Gotten Over It world. Maybe the best we can do is play this 10-hour loop of All Star until we annoy those spying on us into going away.

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