Privacy Equation

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There are millions
of things that can be done to protect privacy. Some are better
than others. For better privacy, it helps to understand the big
picture. Like the laws of physics, there are laws
that apply to privacy
. Every action taken in conformity with
these laws will provide better privacy and help you understand which
actions are best for you. This simple formula will help you conceptualize
how privacy works, what affects it, and how to better calculate
and manage your risks.

The level
of privacy you have is equal to the cost for others
to acquire your personal information divided by the value
of your information to others. The more information that
is easily available about you, or the more valuable it is the less
privacy you have.

Cost Of Obtaining
Information

There are several
components to this side of the equation. The cost to acquire information
is everything that it might take to discover any piece of information
about you. This might be the time it takes to
look something up or figure something out. It might be the cost
in terms of money to employ tools or technologies
or to access
certain databases
. It might be the expertise
needed to discover
patterns in mined data
or to use advanced
surveillance techniques
. It might even be the cost in terms
of legal risk to someone illegally trying to get
your information like hacking into a secured computer network or
pretexting.
As you increase any of these sub-components of this variable, you
increase your privacy.

Value Of Your
Information

For most people
there must be some incentive to get your information.
If there is no monetary, political, or other incentive,
gathering protected information becomes a very expensive hobby.
Wikileaks
does not publish the secret notes that 7th-grade girls pass to each
other in class. They publish the secret notes that government officials
pass which conflict with their public statements because there is
more political value to do so.

Some information
can guide profitable decisions and actions. Your shopping habits
are very valuable to marketers and businesses. Knowing that, they
can reduce their costs of providing you with products that you want,
when you want them, where you want them and at the price you want
them. Reduced cost and probably increased revenue = increased profit.

Information
about your personal wealth can guide profitable identity fraud or
extortion. Higher wealth means higher potential credit limits means
more return for the same work done to steal a wealthy person’s
identity than an average person. The wealthier the victim, the
more money extortionists can bleed out of them at a profit. Higher
wealth means that litigants will be able to demand more money in
legitimate lawsuits and even demand more to avoid the hassle of
a baseless lawsuit.

The higher
your public profile, the higher the value of your information, whether
you have money or not. If you’re an A-list celebrity, the
spokesperson for a contumacious website, or if your circumstances
make you a very public person, your information increases in value.

You can manipulate
the value of your information to a certain extent by protecting
the information that would lead someone to believe that you are
a high-value target.

Level Of Privacy

Your level
of privacy is the level of risk that you face of injury, either
psychological, physical or economic, from your information being
known to someone else. You may even have different levels of privacy
for different types of information. Although your favorite color
might be posted publicly on your blog, Facebook
profile
and tattooed on your arm, you probably wouldn’t
do that with your pin
numbers
. In either case, you are facing a certain amount of
risk that your information will be used against you.

Interaction
Of These Variables

As you raise
the cost to acquire your information (the numerator on the left
side of the equation) you increase your level of privacy (the right
side of the equation). That is true no matter what your value as
a target.

You can raise
the cost of obtaining your information by increasing the amount
of time someone needs to find it, the amount of money they need
to find it, the amount of expertise they need to find it or by increasing
the legal risk of breaking the law to get your information, or any
combination of these.

If you lower
the cost in these categories, your level of privacy will go down.

As you increase
the value of your information as a target, you reduce the level
of privacy. This would happen if you increase in wealth, raise
your public profile, or if more of your personal information reflects
its potential value. As the value of your information goes down,
your privacy will increase.

Optimum Level
Of Privacy

Everyone has
different tastes. Everyone manages risk differently. Privacy allows
you to manage your risks by giving you control over your personal
information. Some people benefit from more disclosure, like most
Hollywood starlets. Disclosure of personal information is risky
for others, like an informant
on potential war crimes
. Everyone has their own optimum level
of privacy which they feel most comfortable with.

Different
Strokes For Different Folks

Everyone wants
to be able to manage their own risks. If they are forced to take
more or less risks than they are inherently prepared to take, they
are uncomfortable. I see this all the time when it comes to the
risk of serious bodily injury. Some people ride a motorcycle with
no helmet, wearing t-shirts and shorts. Others wear a helmet, chaps
and a leather jacket. Others stay away from motorcycles altogether.
None of them are inherently wrong, but nobody wants to be forced
to take more or less risk than they are comfortable with.

Unless something
drastic happens, a non-helmet wearing biker is not likely to give
up riding as the next logical step to taking less risk. She will
probably start wearing a helmet, and maybe long pants and boots.
The ultra-cautious non-rider has already reduced most of her risk,
but maybe she wants to reduce it even more by driving an SUV instead
of a 1979 Datsun station wagon, or wearing a helmet while she drives.

Default Level
of Privacy Low

The recent
trend has been to reduce privacy by default. Data is regularly
collected,
archived,
shared,
sold
and even stolen,
reducing the cost to obtain it. And people have been more than
willing to voluntarily give away a lot of their information. Plus,
the ability to aggregate and analyze large amounts of information
has made the value of everyone’s information go up. This
has vastly reduced the level of privacy of most people.

This was mostly
the result of people not knowing how much of their information was
being collected, what was done with it, and a poor analysis of the
likelihood of harm. In many ways, it is like everyone has been
forced or tricked into riding around without helmets.

How To Vanish
Gives You Control

The purpose
of How
To Vanish
is to give you control over your personal information
so that you can manage the risks yourself. Every tip and technique
is designed to show you different ways to increase the time, money,
expertise, or legal risk needed in order to acquire your information.
There are also a lot of things that show you how to reduce your
perceived value as a target.

Some people
will choose to do the small things to reduce their risk a little
bit, like putting on ahelmet and other protective gear to ride.
Others will do a bit more, like avoid riding altogether. And some
will go as far as they can, like getting an SUV and wearing a helmet
when you drive it.

No Silver
Bullet Solution

Once you let
an idea escape your head, either by writing it down or sharing it
with someone, you are risking disclosure. Maybe someone will find
the file where you put it, maybe the person you told will share
it. No matter what you do to protect that information, there is
a risk that someone will be willing to pay the price in time, money,
expertise, or legal risk to acquire it. The captain of the Titanic
tried to hide that boat on the bottom of the Atlantic, but James
Cameron comes along and he is willing to pay the price to go find
that information. The best you can do is to protect your privacy
in a way that makes you comfortable.

Level Of Privacy
= Optimum Level Of Privacy?

For many people,
their current level of privacy is not equal to their optimum level
of privacy. I would bet that 99% of those people are currently
below their optimum level. Where do you think you are?

You Can Increase
Your Privacy

Encrypting
some of your files with TrueCrypt
increases the cost in time, money and expertise needed to discover
the contents of those files. Buying things with cash
or using electronic gold
accounts increases the cost in time, money, and expertise to discover
and track your financial transactions. Using a VPN like Witopia,
Cryptohippie
or Identity
Cloaker
increases the cost in time, money, expertise and legal
processes to determine what you have been doing online. Using multiple
jurisdictions
for any communication,
transaction,
or activity
increases the cost in time and money,
often by increasing the number of legal proceedings, to monitor
and discover
those activities. Some of these tactics may not
be sufficient for your desired level of privacy, others will be
too much. But all of them increase the privacy of someone and everyone
can increase their privacy in some important ways. How
To Vanish the book
shows the most important steps to take
at any level to get the most privacy for the least cost.

Reprinted
with permission from How to
Vanish.

December
22, 2010

Bill
Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting
from the University of Utah and a law degree from California
Western School of Law
. He practices civil litigation, domestic
and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal
defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and
financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article
of 73 by Bill
Rounds J.D.

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