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Information Survival: Your Life Depends on It

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I became a professional identity theft speaker because my business partner used my identity (and my business’s impeccable 40-year reputation) to embezzle more than a quarter million dollars from our best, most trusting customers. Thanks to drawn-out criminal trials and a seriously impaired lack of attention to my business, I suddenly found myself without a profession.

So I wrote a book about my mistakes, and with a little luck, it led to a speaking career based in first-hand experiences with data theft. The formula works – sharing my failure to protect sensitive information and losing just about everything as a result – my wealth, my business, my job and nearly my family – is a powerful motivator for audiences, both as individuals and professionals. People only understand and act upon the corrosive nature of this crime when they can taste it’s bitterness for themselves. My goal has always been to provide a safe and effective appetizer of data theft that convinces audiences to feed on prevention rather than recovery.

But I’ve realized through my contact with exceptionally smart people, from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to Fortune 500 executives and privacy experts, that identity theft (and it’s close business relative, data breach), are just symptoms of a larger movement undermining personal lives and profit margins on a daily basis —  a movement that demands we be trained in the art of information survival.

What is Information Survival?

We are bombarded by information, 24 hours a day –  24/7 news, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, texting, instant messaging, voice mail, cell phones – and the mobile revolution means that we have access at all times of the day, every where we go. Confronted by so much data, we are often forced to process it instantly, relying on shortcuts and bad data along the way to make rapid decisions at digital speeds. And when we make rapid decisions, we often make mistakes.

Recently, Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, witnessed the cruel speed and ubiquity of information when his room mates posted a YouTube video of him having what he believed was a private sexual encounter in his dorm room. Humiliated, Tyler made a rushed decision to throw his young life over the George Washington bridge. His is the cruelest failure of information survival because Tyler never had a chance to control the information, the video, that would destroy him. Thankfully, we can teach other youngsters how to control what information they can control, and how to survive the rest.

Best selling author, Larry Winget, put it well in a post on my Facebook wall last week:

I agree that teaching our children not to bully others is an issue that must be addressed – but teaching our children not to be victims of bullies is more important. — Larry Winget (emphasis mine)

Information survival is the skill set that allows each of us to weather the downsides of a data-driven economy, to thrive in a knowledge-is-power world without stooping to use information as a weapon, like Tyler’s roommates did. Information survival is part data control, part self-esteem.

When we consciously withhold certain information from our Facebook profile (date of birth, hometown, current location), we are engaging in information survival. When the United States forms a task force to defend our power plants, stock markets, banks, air traffic control, water supply and phone connections against cyber attack, we are acknowledging the power of information, and the imperative of survival training. The company employee who refuses to transmit sensitive data on an unprotected wireless connection in a cafe, the executive who leads by example while instilling a culture of privacy in his corporation, the college student who understands the destructive power of their next post — these are all examples of information survival in action.

Don’t wait to train your people on information survival – whether they are your kids, your employees, or yourself.

John Sileo is a professional speaker on information survival, social media exposure, identity theft and cyber crime for the Department of Defense, Fortune 1000 companies and any organization that wants to protect the profitability of their private information. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or visit his speaker’s website at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.

Facebook, Cigarettes and Information Addiction

Facebook AddictionFacebook is a cigarette, information is the nicotine, and you are the addict. And it is time to stop blaming Facebook if you get privacy cancer.

Years ago, after a long and drawn out fight, the tobacco industry was forced to put labels on their cigarette packs warning smokers that these nicotine delivery devices caused cancer, birth defects and premature death. The warnings did little to slow down sales of cigarettes, though they might have helped the tobacco companies avoid some costly lawsuits because, after all, they had clearly warned users about the dangers.

With the latest iteration of privacy settings being introduced this week on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (or more likely the brilliant Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg) has discovered a similar truth – you are either too addicted to the information drug, or too indifferent to the privacy consequences, to care.

I applaud Facebook for giving users more visibility and a bit more control over how much personal information third party applications can access. They deserve credit for moving the application controls into the privacy section of the website, acknowledging, albeit quietly, that third-party data-mining is a significant source of non-consensual information leakage.

If Facebook would go one step further and demand that third-party apps give us a choice of how much information is shared, along with letting us know how much of our personal information is being shared through the apps that our friends install, we information survivalists would be that much happier. For example, even if you don’t allow your third-party apps to share personal information, your friends’ third-party apps could  be sharing it anyway. But as it stands now, we would never know it.

The good news for Facebook privacy doesn’t end there. Facebook has also redesigned the Groups feature, which theoretically gives you a greater level of control over subsets of friends and how much information they can access. For example, you could choose to share your vacation pictures with family and close friends, but not with co-workers who thought you were out sick. Dishonesty aside, group differentiation makes communication within your social network much more like that of the real world – acknowledging that you don’t share all things with all people equally.

Here’s where the news gets really good for Facebook – they have done their job (or at least have taken steps in the right privacy direction), and they can still bank on you ignoring the very controls they have given you! Sure, those of us who write about social networking professionally will make the changes, but ninety-nine percent of the people who read this article will do nothing with the knowledge. This claim isn’t grounded in bitter cynicism, but statistical fact. I hope that 500 million of you will prove me wrong. When the Facebook changes are live for everyone (they are in beta as I type), we’ll put up a new video showing you how to make them.

Granted, Facebook hasn’t done everything they should do to make THEIR use of OUR data completely transparent to US; but most of US have done nothing to utilize the tools THEY already built to protect OUR privacy anyway, so the point is mute. Facebook is banking billions on our indifference and inaction.

Facebook executives should roll this strategy out to its logical conclusion: give all of us privacy professionals (the Electronic Frontier Foundation, EPIC, the World Privacy Forum, me) exactly what we want, because your Facebook addicts are already too high on info-voyerism to kick the habit. Your product is too good and too necessary to too many people to be hindered by a bit more transparency and a little more control. You have nothing to lose but our complaints.

John Sileo speaks professionally about social media exposure, identity theft and cyber crime for the Department of Defense, Fortune 1000 companies and any organization that wants to protect the profitability of their private information. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or visit his speaker’s website at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.

Identity Theft Speaker Website Gets a Facelift

ThinkLikeASpy.com got a makeover!

We recently updated our website dedicated to my day job as a professional identity theft speaker and expert. The re-launch reflects the release of our new book, Privacy Means Profit, updated resources and our recent appearance on 60 Minutes.

We hope the new website will help you stay up to date on current information survival issues like social media exposure, browser espionage, cyber theft and host of other issues.

Feel free to email us with any questions, comments or feedback on the new site.

The New Features include: