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There's a camera on each street corner recording every move you make. There's an app to analyse every breath you take. There's a smart phone in your pocket alerting everyone to your exact location. You can't get lost anymore. But how safe do you feel in the modern world?
Best not to ask those millions of Optus customers scrambling to organise new driving licences, passports and even Medicare numbers following last week's massive data hack of the telecommunications giant.
Just add them to that growing group of victims of The Great Lie - that promise we were all made that the digital revolution would enrich our lives and make them so much simpler and safer.
Most of us lock our back doors and secure our windows when we leave home these days. Many employ sensor alarms and surveillance cameras. But apparently it's asking too much of corporate Australia to implement equivalent precautions against unwanted intruders.
"The breach is of a nature that we should not expect to see in a large telecommunications provider in this country," Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil told parliament this week. "Responsibility ... rests with Optus."
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also warned that the data breach affecting an estimated 9.8 million Australians was a "huge wake-up call for the corporate sector in terms of protecting the data which is there". A wake-up call? Talk about sleeping on the job. The digital revolution began almost half a century ago. Companies have been greedily harvesting our personal data for profit for decades. Some have even preferred to pay hackers ransom money rather than investing in state-of-the-art security systems that would provide greater protection for their customers.
It's the dirty little secret of the business world. One of the world's largest cybersecurity companies, Crowdstrike, not long ago found that two-thirds of Australian businesses it surveyed had been attacked by hackers and at least a third of those had paid a ransom averaging $1.25 million to prevent the data being sold or leaked.
There's nothing new about criminals shaking down businesses. Bikie gangs and mafia thugs turned the protection racket into a lucrative side hustle for decades. Who could blame a storekeeper for paying a street hood a few hundred bucks each month not to break his legs or burn down his business? But surely we should expect and demand more from large companies than grubby payoffs made to shadowy criminal organisations.
The Optus data breach underscores the disregard so many large companies display toward their customers. Instead of providing faster, cheaper and more transparent services, the digital revolution provided extra cover for businesses whose preoccupation with profit and cost-cutting now makes it almost impossible to reach a human being on the phone.
It can take days or even weeks for some companies to reply to a customer email. And when it comes to cyber security systems, the evidence is clear that many businesses opted for cheaper versions that were obsolete when the Flintstones purchased their first home computer.
You can always measure the trouble a company finds itself in by the language it employs. Optus has been spinning hard this week, boasting about how it quickly "reached out" to affected customers. What a nauseating corruption of the language that phrase has become. In the world of superficial corporate gobbledygook "reaching out" with an impersonal mass email offering little detail, no financial compensation and absolutely no acknowledgement of responsibility is made to sound like an act of selfless community service.
Let's not forget that Optus strenuously opposed any changes to privacy laws that would have given consumers greater rights when it came to protecting their personal data. Apparently any proposed changes would have increased costs. So how does that stance compare now to the inevitable damage inflicted on the company's image and bottom line?
Optus has exposed a third of this country's population to identity theft. "This unfortunate occurrence" - as the company's CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin softly described it this week - has created enormous hardship, suffering and ongoing anxiety for millions of once loyal customers. Legal firms are now investigating class actions that could demand hundreds of millions of dollars from Optus in compensation.
The time for a new digital revolution has arrived and this one should be driven by consumers. After all, we possess the only currency worth anything in the modern world - our data. If a business wants our personal details it should first explain how it plans to safely store and protect them. If those details are stolen, companies should clearly outline what compensation will be made.
So go ahead. Make us an offer we can't refuse. We're not asking for much in return. We'd just like to be kept safe.
HAVE YOUR SAY:
Do you feel your private information really is private? And who should pay the bill when criminals steal our data (clearly the criminals, ideally, but they are well-hidden in cyberspace)? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- After years of calls for the Australian War Memorial to do more to tell the story of the country's violent colonial past, the memorial is to expand its recognition of the battle over land between the British incomers and Indigenous peoples. "It's important to recognise that the memorial already has some recognition of frontier conflict, and I'm aware that as part of the expansion program that the council is looking at how it can have some greater reflection upon that," Veterans' Affairs Minister Matt Keogh said.
- Australia's highest court will have a majority of female judges for the first time in its history. The historic change came when Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the appointment of Justice Jayne Jagot to the seven-person bench.
- Rapper Coolio, best known for his hit Gangsta's Paradise, has died at the Los Angeles home of a friend. The cause was not immediately clear. He was 59.
THEY SAID IT:
"All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret." Gabriel Garca Marquez.
YOU SAID IT:
You have lots of opinions about the honesty of Australians - mostly positive but not always (like lots of places, really).
Judith wrote: "I agree that we are basically honest people. I also think that this is largely because of our prosperity. We can afford to be honest.
"If our poverty rate was equal to that of, say India, I think we might see a different picture."
Arthur said: "Most Australians are honest most of the time except when it comes to income tax returns. Unfortunately telling plausible lies seems to be part of being a politician."
Linda said: Having lost bags, wallets (with cash), iPads, phones, etc in the past and gotten them back at least 75 per cent of the time, I am impressed with and grateful for the honesty of Australians (of various original ethnicities).
"I am less impressed with the honesty and integrity of at least some politicians and business entities."
Which brings us nicely to the national integrity commission.
Bob said: "A national integrity commission is long overdue, but to hold any investigation behind closed doors is ludicrous. What happened to transparency?"
Chris is a bit brutal: "I was looking forward to public, open hearings, not trials. Perhaps to save money, we could jump to the public execution without the trial.
"Now that would be a show!"
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