It is ironic that we still talk about the quaint notion of “privacy” in a digital world in which we barter away our privacy for the privilege of being able to waste our days watching an endless parade of funny cat videos. Yet while we focus on the privacy risk of social media sites and online behavioral and interest tracking, the sad reality is that our personal information is being hemorrhaged every day by data breaches of both online and offline companies and governments over which we have no control. So much personal data has been released by these companies that one must ask whether privacy even exists anymore?
It is a sad commentary on cybersecurity that breaches have now become so common that they rarely even make the news anymore except when a new record is set in terms of data lost. We are so accepting of the inevitable loss of our personal data that we no longer even blink when yet another business sends us a letter notifying us that it accidentally handed over all of our personal data to yet another hacker.
Breaches have become so common now that the media no longer even deems them worthy of attention despite ever-larger losses of personal information. The timeline below shows the percentage of combined airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News July 2009 to present that mentioned “cyberattack” or “hacked” or “data breach" using data from the Internet Archive's Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project.
The word “hacked” really took off from November 2009 through May 2011, but has declined almost linearly since July 2012 other than a peak in September 2014 with the Sony hack. The word “breach” has slowly increased in search interest, but attracts only a small amount of background searches other than spikes around specific high-profile incidents.
While these trends may partially reflect changing language used to describe data breaches, the two graphs show that both media coverage and public interest in breaches is steadily declining as the public simply becomes acclimatized to the idea of a privacy-less world.
In many ways our relentless focus on social media privacy and behavioral and interest-based profiling is misplaced given that far more intimate data is released about us every day by the companies and government agencies we do business with or which acquire information about us without our knowledge.
In the end, perhaps we should just accept that in a world filled with breaches, privacy is nothing more than a distant memory from a time long past.