Trust No One Online?

In yesterday’s New York Times, one of my favorite tech reporters, Brian X. Chen, concludes his column on “Tech Commandments to a Safer Digital Life” with:

Remember to Stay Skeptical
All security experts agreed on one rule of thumb: Trust no one.

Stay skeptical — fine. But “trust no one”? This struck me as excessive and questions bubbled up. Are the experts only talking about about tech companies? Surely Chen would have said so were that were the case. Ergo, he must be talking about individuals as well as tech purveyors.

So is he suggesting that (for example) I can’t trust my husband of many years when we’re online? He’s as trustworthy as anyone I know. But what if his email account were hacked? If I’d sent him sensitive information (e.g., a password or an email discussing a challenging friend) — yes, that could fall into the wrong hands.

Thus, it’s not a question of distrusting individuals or even companies; it’s about not sharing inappropriately on the Internet. You never know when Internet indiscretions might come back to haunt you. And I would rephrase the security experts’ rule of thumb to:

Stay Alert
On the Internet, be exceptionally careful with anything that’s sensitive.

But what does this have to do with compassion in the cloud?

While the password example isn’t relevant, discussing a challenging friend using email is — absolutely. From an NVC (Nonviolent Communication) perspective, this is a strategy to try to meet some basic human needs. There are needs being expressed in using email and in talking about a third party. Once you determine your needs, it’s likely you can come up with other strategies.

When faced with an urge to share sensitive things using the Internet, my suggestion would be to first pause and look at your needs. Then consider various strategies in an effort to come up with the most skillful solution.