Each of us has biases based on the unique circumstances of our lives. Carrying bias is part of being human. Our individual biases are influenced by our life experiences and the context in which we live. That, in turn, gives each of us a unique perspective to evaluate any situation. We may have great insight into some areas where we see things that others don’t. This aspect of bias can provide a benefit. We may have blind spots in other areas where we may be inexperienced or underestimate or overestimate the likelihood of particular events or their impact on us. This aspect of bias can be a liability.
Acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses that our biases provide us is an important aspect of being self-aware. If we train ourselves to catch those “that could never happen to me” moments, we create the opportunity to pause, challenge our biases and improve upon the situation. If we miss these opportunities, we can end up with a blind spot. Being this self-aware can be difficult to do well in more stressful or time-sensitive situations. It is a skill that can apply well to ongoing activities, such as periodically reviewing past progress and planning for the future.
What does this have to do with privacy and cyber safety?
Managing our personal or family’s privacy and cyber safety is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not practical to lock ourselves in a room for a weekend, incorporate some new technologies and then walk out to proudly declare that we have won the battle against data brokers, fraudsters and identity thieves, and never revisit the topic. Thinking about how we protect our privacy and cyber safety is an activity that is ideally suited to consider in the context of our biases to find and eliminate our privacy and cyber safety blind spots.
We each approach managing our privacy and cyber safety from a unique perspective. We may live in different countries, be at different stages of our lives, have different skills and experiences and be concerned with the myriad of bad actors involved in the privacy and cyber safety ecosystem. In short, we each have a different threat model. This leads us to choose different solutions to mitigate our perceived threats and creates our privacy and cyber safety blind spots.
Mary has deep skills in computer networking is probably highly aware of how ISPs and online services can track a consumer by their IP address (threat). She chooses solutions such as VPNs to address that threat (bias). She may be unaware of how they are profiled by sites based on their social profiles (blind spot).
Tom has been the victim of identity theft after his personal data was included in a data breach. He is motivated to prevent this in the future (threat). Tom chooses solutions such as MySudo to provide multiple digital identities that do not have to be linked to his legal identity (bias), primary email address or mobile phone number. Tom may be less likely to consider how his credit card provider sell his purchase history to data brokers (blind spot).
Kim does not understand how advertising technology works but she is aware that certain ads seem to follow her and her browsing history across multiple devices (threat). Kim chooses privacy-first browsers such as Brave and MySudo and private search engines such as DuckDuckGo when working on a laptop or mobile device (bias). At the same time, she may love the cool tech of her smart home assistant and everything she can ask it to do for her (blind spot).
How do we identify our privacy and cyber safety blind spots?
It’s not always quick and simple, so let’s not be too hard on ourselves as we go through this exercise. Periodically reading and learning about multiple aspects of privacy and cyber safety is important. Source your material from a variety of sources – no single journalist, vendor, academic researcher or industry expert has all the answers. Diversity is key. This will naturally make you aware of new threats, problems and solutions. Keep asking yourself questions such as:
- What aspects of privacy and cyber safety am I hearing and reading about but not looking in to?
- What are the online services I use the most and what information can I find about privacy-centric settings for those services?
- What alternatives can I find with stronger privacy characteristics than the equivalent services I am currently using?
Our biases can simultaneously help and hinder our journey to a more privacy and cyber safe digital experience. Acknowledging our biases is the first step towards challenging them and committing to finding new ways to improve our privacy and cyber safety.
So, what’s my privacy blind spot? I’m always looking for the next one, but I’m not going to tell you!