Isn't it marvellous to possess one of those fantastic little new loudspeakers that just sit, listening for your voice until you command it, "play a song", and it will? Isn't it even better, in fact, when your search engine seems to know exactly what you're looking for, almost before you know yourself?
And you're cool, right, you're always careful and do the right thing? So does it really matter if every time you sit there, connecting to the internet, other people are sitting there alongside you, watching your transactions, building up a detailed profile of your shopping history (and matching it to what you might want next); your financial transactions (and matching it to your bank accounts); or your political interactions (and using it to predict your opinions)?
As citizens of a Western democracy we're naturally suspicious when we hear of the Chinese government "buying" on its citizens. "Of course", we think, "how outrageous!" In the meantime we seem to have no problem when the US or our own government demand deliberate vulnerabilities, called "backdoors" should be installed in common software sold here.
That's not a problem at the moment, of course.
I don't believe I know a straighter person than the retiring head of ASIO, Duncan Lewis. He has demonstrated absolute, firm and unwavering commitment to the principles of civil society, from his time commanding (and transforming) our Special Forces, serving as a diplomat and public servant before finally, taking charge of the domestic security agency. If anything, his problem was being far too honest, too straight; and not manoeuvring and playing political games. Anyone could feel confident with someone such as this in such a critical job.
I'm sure, equally, that Lewis' replacement, former Australian Signals Directorate boss Mike Burgess, will demonstrate similar integrity in the job. He's brought (some) transparency and openness to the previously closed world of signals intelligence. Nevertheless, this change reminds us of just how dependent our institutions are on the individuals sitting at the top.
What happens, for example, when one of those connected loudspeakers happens to be in a room where an argument begins and someone is killed? Shouldn't police be able to access the recording? But what if that seemingly accurate record is actually manufactured - something that's perfectly possible? Should spy agencies - from abroad - be able to obtain perfectly legal conversations occurring between Australian citizens on Australian soil and then share the information with, perhaps (and it's happened before) other government agencies for economic advantage?
Finally, even if we trust our government not to monitor (most) of our interactions it's worth noting that there is no right of privacy preventing (foreign) businesses processing your personal details. Facebook, for example, does.
The "social" network even creates blank personas for people who haven't signed up yet, adding details like phone numbers and purchases to build up a cut-out ready for when the child gets their first phone. Fighting back against business surveillance of individuals seems like a no-brainer, and yet our government is seemingly uninterested in legislating on this issue - it's too hungry to add to its own information database.
Go back to your simplest, first action this morning. You chose some clothes. Nobody believes in complete visibility.
As a pure concept; as an idea, we love transparency. It's what journalists aim for. Yet, as anybody who's had any interaction with reporters is well aware, discovering the truth together with all its nuances in a news story is extremely difficult, and that's even without deliberate misinformation being added. Go back to your simplest, first action this morning. You chose some clothes. Nobody believes in complete visibility.
So what's the answer? Obviously we'd expect the government to act, but unfortunately the combined desires of politicians, the security establishment and business are apparently militating against this.
Unfortunately this field is so wreathed in secrecy that it's difficult to know who to trust. That's why an initiative by Kaspersky Cybersecurity is so startling.
After the fall of the Soviet Union the company's founder, Eugene Kaspersky, began a business developing and selling antivirus software. He employs the sort of people film scripts love to make fun of, genuinely brilliant computer nerds. Kaspersky gives them rope and lets them find, and protect against, viruses (or, if you prefer, vira. 'Viri' is the Latin plural for 'man'). This hasn't made him popular. His company found, for example, the malicious Stuxnet cyber-weapon launched by the US against Iran and other targeted cyber-espionage threats.
Kaspersky's moving his operations to neutral spaces. He opened an initial 'transparency centre' in Switzerland and another, last week, in Malaysia's Cyberjaya. The idea is that anyone - regulators, business, or even individuals - can go to a secure centre and review the company's product to ensure there are no 'back doors', allowing anyone access.
There is a natural tension between any government's desire for control and our need for individual freedom. The current Chinese government insists that the party - itself - exists to nurture the community. As a result any opposition, almost by definition, must be inspired by troublemakers from outside. That's the simple narrative Beijing uses to dismiss the massive protests weekend after weekend in Hong Kong. It also provides a simple lever justifying surveillance.
In the US, by contrast, business reigns supreme. There's no protection from unwanted bugs following your browsing around the net, building up a picture of your every move. Anonymity's increasingly difficult.
Kaspersky shows there is a third way. Trust people.
- Nic Stuart travelled to Malaysia courtesy of Kaspersky Labs.