How has your behavior changed thanks to Uber?

Lessons in privacy and hygiene in the face of ubiquity and convenience.

For all those (perhaps harried) officegoers who have to subject themselves to attending conference calls in their cars in the morning, noon and night, seldom a thought is spared to who may be spying on those calls. And rightfully so, because being paranoid about this does not do one any good. More importantly, the end to end encryption - be it Skype or WhatsApp - has made us more comfortable talking about business and people sensitive subjects in our transportation marvels. Until the world changed on us. #Uber happened.

But all that changed with Uber? How so? Because with Uber, now taking those conference calls became quite challenging because the Uber driver or Uber pool fellow passengers might be listening intently to the one-sided conversation and conjecturing competitive dynamics that could be used by them or sold to third parties. And we, ever vigilant, ever so privacy-minded, acted immediately. We stopped taking conference calls while in an Uber! #YEAHRIGHT

Our behavior has NOT changed. I have seen many a fellow Uber pooler talk away on eyebrow-raising topics that would be best discussed in closed confines in lowered tones. But no, we do not pay heed. And when the friendly Uber driver or our inquisitive fellow passengers pop in with a question or two afterward, we take it upon ourselves to answer diligently with candor. #SAYWHAT.

But this is not about Uber goers code of conduct. But rather drawing a parallel to how Public Wi-Fi has emerged as the Uber of communication versus our own private homes and apartments Wi-Fi which was our single-use or family's personal car. And why our behavior needs to change as we brazenly flit between one and the other seamlessly or we risk the consequence of breach and compromise of our prized assets. We now have four basic needs - Food, Water, Shelter, and Internet. And the last is increasingly served through Public Wi-Fi.

The public Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to hit about 430M by 2020 (up from 64M in 2015 according to a Cisco report). And this, therefore, is becoming the Uber of communication going forward - it is everywhere, cheap and user-friendly (most of the time, sometimes the Wi-Fi name reflects on the weird sense of humor of the provider). The privacy of Wi-Fi in our homes aka our personal cars dwarfs in comparison to the growth and availability of this ubiquitous broadband which serves to satisfy our fourth basic need.

The other trend that is exacerbating this issue is the rise of the mobile workforce. IDC expects that by end of 2020 about 72% of the US workforce will be mobile workers. Those two trends - ubiquitous Wi-Fi and a nomadic workforce virtually guarantees that security and privacy issues will rise to the fore. Why? Because the hackers will go where the target is - in coffee shops sipping lattes multi-tasking away while their data is being siphoned, passwords are being cloned and identities being compromised.

While the larger enterprises have policies in place like VPN and multi-factor authentication, the most vulnerable - small businesses and individual workers have neither the expertise nor the time to dwell on this. There is blame that vendors need to bear as well for making solutions that are not user-friendly which makes for a poor customer experience and alienates even the paranoid users who believe that they need to adopt a solution.

But there is hope. There are some very innovative, intuitive and nearly invisible solutions that create an artificial barrier that obfuscates the traffic upon detecting that they are in a public spot versus a secure private one, and magically secures the transport. Some of these solutions also play the role of a nanny with basic hygiene enforcement, for example, no auto-join to Wi-Fi networks. And by effectively using the cloud, they are able to scale the solution as more users adopt this across many Wi-Fi networks. Context, Control, and Capacity. Just what the doctor ordered.

Now if only there were a similar solution to my Uber problem. One where Uber obfuscation could happen automatically when I join my fellow Uber poolers and I could be prodded to switch to my native Tamil and magically all my calls get routed to a super translator in the middle providing real-time translation between Tamil and English. And my fellow Uber customers would be none the wiser on what I discussed. And the conference attendees at the remote end would be none the wiser too, except when they hear a more pronounced American accent masquerading as me. I am OK with that in the name of privacy.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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