Retro privacy concerns: bed pans and hospital gowns

I couldn’t see her face on the other side of the curtain, but I was pretty well acquainted with my roommate after a few hours. We were friends, kind-of, by the time the nurse helped me position myself over a bedpan. Propping myself up on three of my all-fours, because one foot is severely injured, I was momentarily struck with a rush of old-school emotion about privacy.

Hours earlier, three men had undressed me in the emergency room. There was no institutionally-prescribed mock concern for my emotional comfort. In short order, the male ER personnel had pulled off the pants, T-shirt, and sports bra I’d been wearing on my bike ride, and put me into a gown. No-nonsense, down-to-business, get-‘er-done. It didn’t feel strange because they didn’t make it strange.

So now, with a nurse and another patient in the room, the self-described privacy advocate needs to go potty.

“Suddenly, I’ve got a shy bladder,” I told the nurse, who said she’d leave the room for a moment to give me some privacy. It didn’t help, because it wasn’t about her.

Dozens of times a month, I contemplate twenty-first century privacy. Procedures, protections, violations, bad laws, and the dumb ways people expose themselves for the sake of convenience or socializing.

So often and so automatically do I think about these things that my brain’s been retrained. It translates “privacy” differently than it did when I was growing up. Knowing there are people are watching in real time as my body functions, and looking at my private parts —  once, this would have been a 10 on the privacy invasion scale. It barely registers now. Seems quaint, even.

Privacy invasion is made of different things now.  Video surveillance and invasive authority. Businesses blithely collecting info without considering the consequences. Free services that steal your soul with a thumbs-up and a smile. The mantra that says you have nothing to worry about, because you’ve done nothing wrong, which is of course, patently false. And the big lie, repeatedly told and never questioned: “We take privacy very seriously.” Ha.

So these people who work in clinical settings, helping the ill and patching up the occasional injured bicyclist — like the creeps who steal nude photos from the cloud, the medical professionals see lots of naked body parts in a given week. Like the social media moguls, they stay emotionally detached from their subjects, and they do what they do for money. Like mindless good-government types, they expose you in order to help you.

But their invasion is fleeting, it’s got authentic purpose, and they’re in the room, looking you in the face, with full accountability while they do it. Those are some of the reasons it’s different, and the reasons float through my head, and in the middle of the night I wake up, and notice lights on the patient cams are lit.  It might be the pain medication they’ve pumped into me, but tonight I don’t care.

Apple Pay: Sorry about your nude photos, but please let us handle your money.

Criticizing Apple can be as emotionally charged as talking politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It should not be undertaken lightly, and perhaps not at all, if you dread ugly, irrational confrontation with true believers.

Having said that, here’s the definition of chutzpa: Ten days after the great iCloud nude photo hack, Apple, with great fanfare, announces Apple Pay. Now that cybercriminals have swiped your most intimate and embarrassing photos from its digital vault, Apple would like to handle your money.

Experts say the Apple Pay system looks as technologically sound as such things can be. In fact, it’s a breakthrough in digital payment methodology.

But just a minute – Apple has shed no light on the problem that allowed the great celebrity nude photo hack, except to say that vile human behavior is to blame, not its iCloud upload feature. The company shrugged off the most talked-about cyber incident of the year with a boilerplate statement, reflecting its customary impenetrable demeanor.

Apple is an arrogant company, and it’s not a transparent company, and if you’re an Apple-lover, this is the point at which you might throw down your napkin and stalk away from the dinner table before the pumpkin pie is served, making me wonder why I waded into the subject in the first place.

In the age of rampant cybercrime and diminishing privacy, Apple’s aversion to candid conversation is worrisome, no matter the system architecture of its next big thing. Presumably, it’s the drive to keep users in a proprietary Apple cocoon that drives Apple’s close-to-the-vest  attitude about everything else, including security and privacy, which the company claims – as does every Big Data player – to take “very seriously.”

Talk with folks in the security community, and you’ll hear that Apple is closed to outside inquiry. Google, Microsoft, and the other big players have a conspicuous presence at security conferences. Apple does not make itself conspicuous at these gatherings. The others issue open invitations to the hacking community to help identify problems. Apple does not. Some offer “bug bounties” — a payment in return for reporting security holes.  Apple does not.

That doesn’t mean the Apple iOS hasn’t suffered repeated and very public penetration by expert hackers. It just means those exploits don’t generate any reassuring responses. Apple tackles problems internally, at its own pace, all the while keeping its legions of users convinced that they’re as safe in the Apple environment as babes in their mothers’ arms.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece called “Can Apple Solve the Riddle of Mobile Payments?” which says Apple didn’t return a phone call requesting comment. Apple didn’t return a call to the freakin’ Wall Street Journal, for the love of Steve Jobs, on the day of a major announcement. Other stories about Apple Pay rely almost entirely on the opinions of third-party analysts and academic researchers, with those sources buttressed by unnamed “people involved in its development,” and information from the formal Apple announcement.

Once, five or so years back, I called Apple in an earnest attempt to carry out a journalistic obligation. It might have been one of the many times iOS security was called into question. Whatever it was, I was inviting the company’s response. After several attempts to get someone on the phone, a spokesperson left a message declining my request for a conversation, but instructing me to refer to the company as “Apple, not Apple Computers.”

Mea culpa, but what about youra culpa? Apple doesn’t cop to anything, even when it should. At this moment in history, every entity that owns personal information about its users should be an open book, inviting scrutiny, and responding candidly to problems. That brand of openness should become a consumer demand.

To broach all of this causes veins to bulge in the foreheads of Appleheads, who experience the company’s public persona  only at the Genius Bar and during its highly-orchestrated new product releases.

Apple’s stock is up, its users are salivating for the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, and the nude photo hack is all but forgotten. Apple Pay represents the next potential Apple juggernaut — domination of retail transactions. Apple rules again, for the many of the right reasons. But also for some wrong ones.

Don’t track me, bro: How to make your cell phone signal disappear

Here’s my favorite memento from this year’s Def Con conference.  It’s a Faraday Cage for your cell phone, constructed from military-grade electromagenetic shielding to prevent cell and GPS signal tracking.  The truly paranoid will be pleased to know it also prevents remote activation of your cell phone’s audio and video functions, eliminating the threat of real-time eavesdropping by — well, whomever you fear might be interested in you.

privacyCaseI’m satisfied just to seal up my phone for a few hours and trek around town without leaving a trace, pretending I’m Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.

The inventor of the case is coy about how it works, but says it relies on well-understood scientific principles to create an “electronically bulletproof” environment for the phone. No signal gets in or out.

The downside, if you’re required to stay in contact with the world, is a delay in receiving messages, which arrive only after the phone is removed from the case.  The size, too, may present problems if you keep your phone in a case to protect it from damage.  My phone has to be removed from its Otterbox to fit in the Privacy Case.  There’s a larger Privacy Case on the drawing board, inventor and company president Mike Nash told me.

Nash’s company, Privacy Research, Inc, cites the Fourth Amendment on its packaging, a clear appeal to Snowden fans and civil libertarians. But he also works with domestic violence shelters, where the immediate practical benefit is obvious.

Nash was inspired to create the Privacy Case when he was working for a hedge fund company.

“We realized that with 24 people sitting in the board room, that’s 24 microphones and 24 cameras that could  collect information that’s confidential to our company,” Nash told me. “After leaving (that job), I discovered that domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers were using people’s cell phones to track them down.”

He launched the company with a focus on products for individuals, but says he’s working on some business products.

I paid $80 for my case, and Nash engraved it for me on the spot.  Most folks want their name or company logo, he said, but that’s seems counterproductive if it’s privacy you’re seeking, so I requested the phrase pictured above.

 The cases come in a range of colors, including a camouflage print.




Blame the victims? Hell, yes! Idiot celebrities failed to protect their nude photos.

Smart celebrities don’t take off their clothes in a professional setting unless they’re handsomely paid, but some of them are apparently dumber than junior high schoolers when it comes to their personal nudies and the internet.

Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Upton, and others whose naked images were snatched last week from the cloud —  surely they’re all wise to the ways of the paparazzi and other merciless privacy invaders. They were understandably ignorant about the brazen cyberjackass ethic on 4chan, but their foolish faith in cloud service privacy settings is utterly stunning.

These women are walking, talking cash generators. I’m sorry, feminists, but their bodies are commodities. Their nude photos are valuable digital assets first. Secondarily, they are the product of intimate interludes. It’s impossible to overstate the stupidity of entrusting these assets to the cloud.

Valuable digital assets belong on proprietary servers that aren’t connected to the internet. While there’s plenty more to say about the security and privacy takeaway from the so-called great celebrity nude photo hack, the social commentary surrounding it is more fascinating.

No, this was not a sex crime, and yes, I blame the victims.  It’s offensive to diminish rape by comparing this cybertheft to a sex crime, a trend observed in the Washington Post.

On a purely personal level, these celebrities aren’t any more violated than thousands of other women who in private moments consented to nude photos, only to discover later that they’ve been exposed to the world on social media sites.

As a non-celebrity, when someone posts your nude photos without permission, you have an uphill climb getting anyone to care. The social networks, which are the customary cloud venue for such privacy invasions, are notoriously indifferent to requests for help from ordinary women. You’ll have a tough time getting acknowledgment of a privacy violation, never mind any talk of a sex crime.

Meanwhile, they’ll utter the most overused phrase in the industry. “We take user privacy very seriously.”

Your attorney, if you can get one to take your case, will have to spend far more time than you can afford confirming the identities, and chasing the online activity logs of your ex-boyfriend or your peeping tom neighbor, the likeliest culprits. That’s because the culprits, too, are often users of the cloud service in question. Maddeningly, the social media sites exhibit reluctance to violate their privacy.

Pursuing justice through the courts is unlikely to pencil out for you or your attorney. Consequently, there aren’t many lawyers interested in representing every-day victims in such cases.

Jennifer, Kirsten, Kate, and the others are famous and fabulously wealthy. Their attorneys are already deployed, and the FBI has sprung into action on their behalf. Their photos have been removed from most of the sites where they appeared, in some cases with an apology.

Your case is unlikely to capture the attention of the FBI. Your local police department and the District Attorney might get involved, but be advised that carries some unintended consequences, especially if you have children, or perhaps you’re in the midst of a divorce where custody is in question.

You and I and Kate Upton are different in some obvious ways, and let’s just say I’ve declined to waste the time of the good folks at Sports Illustrated by submitting my swimsuit photos for their consideration. But if my image were the key to my earnings, you can bet I’d take a serious approach to guarding it, and that means hiring experts besides the publicists who regulate traditional information flow.  I’d have my own personal cybersquad regulating the digital information flow. I’d pay for private storage,  I’d use two-factor authentication, and I’d have hardcore rules about the places where my image lives. Kate and the girls could learn a few things from hanging out with me.