Snowden Made People Care About Privacy, And Made Companies Pretend To Care

Not sure if this counts as first- or second-order effects, but whatever. A while back I pointed out the main effect of Snowden’s spill would be reaching out and jabbing a Doritos-salt-encrusted finger in the face of every man, woman, and child on the Interwebs and saying, “YOU! YES, YOU! THIS AFFECTS YOU TOO!”

And I stand by my words.

Half the US adult population changed their Internet behavior thanks to the NSA revelations, according to a new poll… [1] leading them to think twice before they click on that “rule 34” link. For 26% of them, it means they’re doing less shopping and banking online. (What were they all buying BEFORE, exactly…?) And for 24%, they’re doing the wise thing and not using email when it matters.

More remarkably, this is a conservative estimate. Another poll suggest 86% of the US population has started trying (and probably failing completely) to cover their tracks online [2]. In this case we’re talking about stuff like installing ad-blockers and changing Facebook settings, but hey… it’s the thought that counts. RIGHT? RIGHT?

(hint: in security, the thought ain’t worth shit. To quote The Lives of Others, “In the operational domain what counts isn’t points, but results.”)

What this does mean is that there’s a lot (steadily growing) popular pressure for more security. As a result the major providers, even the “security? who needs HTTPS when we forget your password randomly, lock you out of your account, and make you solve impossible captchas!” aficionados at Yahoo! are implementing some semblance of crypto in their stuff. [3]

We are still a long way to go. As Schneier points out [4] in an excellent article at the Atlantic, most of this “we care about your privacy” line from corporate America is no less fraudulent than the any emanations from The Clapper or Fort Meade. Ultimately they’re all still in the business of keeping tabs on your derriere, and the rest is for show.

This is incidentally why, despite vigorous calls from certain corners of the cypherpunk set — “Release of all Snowden documents will spur hi-level change” [5] I remain a staunch supporter of the Snowden drip strategy. The leaks have only begun to percolate…

As the punditariat observed, the Ukraine-Crimea-Russia drama was a welcome distraction for the SIGINT men cowering from the media in their bunkers, but thanks to “the Drip,” Snowden and the growing awareness of the need for privacy will outlast any blip in the news cycle.

I would go so far as to put forth a “J’accuse…!” against JYA and the cypherpunks in this matter. After all, a big simultaneous dump benefits the cypher-cognoscenti far in excess of the general public. Those who have the interest and the skills to analyze the dump derive the benefits, while for everyone else it soon fades into a distant memory that pops up as a footnote in the news once in a while. (like Cablegate)

On the other hand the Drip is decidedly democratic. Everyone with even a mote of interest gets to see the gory details and their implications laid out in pre-digested pieces. There’s not much advantage to be had as part of the techno-elite.

Which, I suspect, may on a subconscious level be irritating the HELL out of said techno-elite.

[1] http://www.welivesecurity.com/2014/04/02/harris-poll-nsa-revelations-impact-online-shopping-banking/

[2] http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304704504579432823496404570

[3] http://yahoo.tumblr.com/post/81529518520/status-update-encryption-at-yahoo

[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/don-t-listen-to-google-and-facebook-the-public-private-surveillance-partnership-is-still-going-strong/284612/

[5] https://twitter.com/Cryptomeorg/status/451673968349433856
“Greater public oversight of 3-branch civilians, not scapegoating NSA, is needed. Release of all Snowden documents will spur hi-level change.”

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