Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Online Privacy Follies Hit Home: BoomTown Was One of Those Exposed in the AT&T iPad Snafu

Yesterday, it was revealed that AT&T–which usually and deservedly catches flak for its appalling dropping of voice calls–got caught up in a thorny security debacle related to the Apple iPad.

According to a report initially posted on Gawker Media’s Valleywag site, the telecom giant had a flaw that allowed a group of computer experts to expose the email addresses and identity numbers of 114,000 owners of the popular tablet device.

Including mine.

That would be my personal one from Comcast (CMCSA), which you can see here in an obscured list of others–including some prominent officials in government.

AT&T (T) had my email because it was used to sign up for mobile service for the Apple (AAPL) iPad’s 3G version, automatically appearing during registration.

Now the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the AT&T breach, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, in what seems to be an early probe.

Oooh, the Feds are involved now.

I wish I could say it will make a difference. Because it won’t.

In fact, coming on the heels of privacy controversies at Facebook and Google (GOOG), it’s just another log on the digital fire that has been burning up privacy for a very long time now.

And now more than ever, it is part of a massive confluence of trends, including:

Consumers more interested than ever in sharing information about themselves in order to make ever better social networking connections online; a plethora of innovative devices–mostly mobile–and Internet tools available to seamlessly and easily allow those consumers to do so; and, perhaps most of all, Internet companies intent on hoovering up as much information as possible, in order to garner more consumers and sell it to advertisers.

In large part, this is all well and good, creating a range of valuable and entertaining services at little or no cost and making the computing experience more personal and relevant.

Because of that, I have to admit I was less tweaked than I thought I would be, although I wish I were not.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose email was also compromised, expressed the feeling best.

“It shouldn’t be pretty hard to figure out my email address,” he was quoted saying in the Journal article. “To me, it wasn’t that big a deal.”

That’s because all of us are thinking less that such information is private or will remain that way for long.

See this handy illustration, below, from the Journal, about how the iPads were hacked so easily and you get the picture quickly.

And, indeed, I am one of those who puts a great deal of information about myself out there for many to see, from my email on Facebook to my locations on Foursquare to my thoughts on Twitter to photos and videos everywhere.

That said, like others, I have also begun to rethink some of this, recently removing my phone number and other personal information from Facebook and other places where I had stashed them in plain sight, making them harder to find.

Of course, I also know that retrieving much of my personal information is now a lost cause, like trying to unmix cream poured into coffee.

Still, companies, especially those entrusted with this information, should not be quite so sanguine as consumers have become.

I still haven’t heard from AT&T, for example, which is somewhat irksome since the company has known about the issue for days now.

And as each of these incidents occurs, you get the feeling of execs either too obtuse or thoughtless or, yes, cynical to make this a priority.

They should, since the avalanche of information being made available will only increase, with possibly dire circumstances if not handled well.

Hollywood actress Joan Crawford had it right in a famous quote: “Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell.”

Substitute “Digital living” for love and it’s the very same message.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus