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On A Scale of 1-10, How Secure Are You?

A colleague of mine – a lawyer whose IQ is stratospheric – confesses to feeling terrified 99% of the time. Now, this is a guy who’s very well read, very savvy, a guy I’ve known for a long time and appears as serene as a summer lake. He snowboards and cycles without a helmet and recently applauded his college-age daughter’s determination to hike part of the Appalachian Trail using the trail moniker “Solo Sister.” In other words, this man’s personality type is not one I’d classify as anxious.

And yet, when it comes to his online identity – social network platforms (he has none), banking (he doesn’t do it), shopping (brick–and-mortar consumer only, pays in cash when he can), travel booking (calls to make reservations) – he opts out.

Trust Concept

Why? “I don’t trust a bot with my data,” he says.

Though fearless-Fido in real-time, my colleague is suspicious of any online activity that asks for his personal information, and this apprehension greatly impacts his cyber interaction. In fact, I’d argue his caution causes him to avoid certain experiences he might otherwise enjoy – like using the Coros smart bicycle helmet – because of this hacking phobia.

Privacy Spectrum

With the work I do for companies that range from well-known U.S. chain stores to international telecom giants, I’ve started to wonder: How secure do my clients’ customers, aka stereotypical consumers, feel? The pendulum swings wide. Me? I give it all up. You want my credit card number? Here you go. Oh and PayPal? I’ll readily hand over a bank account number if it’ll make purchasing what I want easier and quicker.

But not everyone’s as relaxed as I am about their financial, physical and social security. This was particularly apparent recently with the social media outcry following the overturning of Internet privacy laws (although ISPs promise not to sell browsing data). And maybe I’m too complacent. Whereas my lawyer friend looks like a serene lake, I am one when it comes to cyber security. But the last laugh may be on me.

So I decided to do a little research into how most people feel about digital security in the Information Age.


During the 2016-17 college application cycle, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) reported a glitch: its Data Retrieval Tool crashed just as thousands of students were trying to upload their family’s financial information. These college applicants were more than glad to give up their personal information; in fact, they were incensed that technology wouldn’t let them!

Yet, according to a recent Gallup Poll, identity theft has doubled since 2010, which, I would posit, is due to the rise in e-commerce. Still, people are choosing convenience and affordability over fear. Deals occur 24×7 at the Global Bazaar known colloquially as the Net. In fact, 15.5% of consumer spending occurs online, up from 3% a decade ago, and the number will continue to climb as Gen Next acquires purchasing power.

Viewed individually, the more Internet business one conducts, the larger the digital footprint. And that trail, littered with credit card numbers, bank accounts, addresses, telephone numbers and online reviews, extends well beyond Main Street. While this will always make some people nervous, more and more of us will click Amazon Prime and not think twice about the personal risk we may or may not be facing.


I was in Europe having dinner with a client when he got a call from the police saying his home alarm had been triggered. Almost simultaneously, a text from his teenage son came through, explaining he was the culprit, not a burglar. As the discussion turned to home security, half of us at the table revealed we had state-of-the-art protection systems. “Do you sleep better at night?” asked a colleague. As it turned out, we all slept just fine, not giving much thought to how safe the system made us feel. But then we got into the weeds. What about making your home smarter?

“I love Alexa” someone said. “And Echo, Dot and Tap.” To the un-innovated, these names may sound like love interests or pets, but our table of tech geeks knew these products very well. Lights dimmed virtually! Thermostats regulated remotely! My lawyer colleague would probably ask suspiciously, “At what cost?” What he’s really asking is: Does Alexa gather our personal data as she delights? Of course she does.

Most of us know that regardless of the Patriot Act, George Orwell’s Big Brother probably has an eye on us – but just some of the time and maybe even to make our lives more secure. With Alexa, it definitely makes things more fun.


I was speaking with a newly divorced friend about online dating sites. Have you ever run into a Fatal Attraction? He reminded me that the movie encounter between Glenn Close and Michael Douglas happened pre-Internet. But still: location tracking, phone number disclosing, photograph posting.

You’re offering your data to a bunch of prospective soul mates but also to a possible Svengali. One of the more popular matchmaking sites, Match, provides users with safety tips for a responsible online dating presence, and Tinder uses TeleSign to protect client identities. But what about making sure your new business deal or, in this age of political activism, the protest you’re planning, is safe in your ecosystem of partners and peers? Signal and Signal Protocol are two end-to-end encrypted communications systems developed by Open Whispers that safeguard conversations. For the run-of-the-mill social media user, changing your password periodically isn’t such a bad idea.

Do I do it? Nah. But then, I’m a serene lake when it comes to exchanging my personal information for expediency and instant gratification (although I always wear a helmet when cycling). Again, online security is a personal personal-safety issue. Trust your comfort level; it’s usually spot-on.

The Privacy-Value Balance

There may be a tipping point on the near horizon when my lawyer friend and I see eye-to eye. Given his yen for extreme sports and healthy living, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t trade his data for longevity – a medical monitoring device that detects the first cell of cancer in the human body. He might even see it’s not so scary to be tracked and watched, especially when the value-add is so good.

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Theo Forbath

Theo Forbath

Theo Forbath is Global Vice President of Digital Transformation at Cognizant. With more than fifteen years’ experience as an innovator in global collaboration for product design and engineering, including formerly as a top executive with leading experiential design firm Frog Design, Theo has developed successful methodologies for integrating on- and off-shore teams from creating strategy to developing products and services for commercialization. He has published widely on innovation and strategy, including features in Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, IEEE, and Fortune, and he has spoken extensively on a range of topics, including at the Tedx Academy. Theo has studied and published with professors from Harvard Business School; he has a BA with honors in Sociology and Philosophy from Brandeis University. Theo lives in Cambridge, Mass., and works around the globe.
Theo Forbath

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