Smart Technology and Smart Choices

On any typical day, one can freely access leading websites from smart phones, cull through personalized news services, and review all sorts of history, social media and shared information – all by tacitly accepting the many algorithms that track our every move. Home thermostats can intelligently readjust as they sense that we leave for the office, for more eco-friendly settings, at the same time we figure out the fastest commute to the office using a traffic optimization app on one of our devices. And if we are trying to catch a flight, we all know the various privacy trade-offs we now accept just to get through security, especially if we opt to expedite processing with pre-clearance protocols. Indeed, the privacy choices we constantly make seem to be endless in exchange for the added convenience and stunning efficiency of participating in the transformational mega-trend of ubiquitous connectivity.

There is little doubt this trend has brought unquestionable benefits to each of us and to society as a whole. Yet our collective willingness to share our lives without a second thought – and the aggregation of our personal information into centralized databases in the cloud – has also brought insecurity, enabling those individuals and groups that wish us harm a virtual treasure trove of information. Some of the choices we make are our own; others are forced upon us to participate in the digital ecosystem. Unfortunately, as it stands today, you either choose to opt in or to opt out. There seems to be little in the way of middle ground.

In the wake of the Equifax database hack (and Yahoo, Anthem, Target and many others), it is clear that malicious online thieves have already captured or soon will get their hands on much of our personal information. While we can measure the market price drop of Equifax’s stock or other punitive effects at other compromised firms, the ultimate cost to the rest of us is less quantifiable, in part because those costs are hidden, they are more difficult to value and they are often delayed in their impact. 

These high profile breaches highlight the inherent disadvantages of so much personal information so freely collected and available. In fact, some say that privacy is essentially dead and we should simply get used to it; others do not accept this fate, and instead advocate for strengthening privacy laws and updating the Constitution’s 4th Amendment to better protect these rights in the modern, digital world. Ultimately privacy – in its many forms – is up to lawmakers to protect and preserve, or not.

In the meantime, as this brave new world evolves, Sand Hill remains vigilant about doing what we can on our end to protect client privacy and property – from the safety of money transfers and other transactions to the information we encrypt and store. Of course, we understand your basic need to participate in our society of increasingly free-flowing information. But until the regulatory and legal systems catch up with the pace of technological change – and consumer privacy, security and confidentiality becomes even more secure – it is critical to be alert about how information is shared and with whom. After all, in the digital age, if you aren’t paying for it and you aren’t the customer, you’re probably the product being sold. And that’s worth thinking about.

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