One of the most frightening thoughts is to have your very identity stolen. It would be one thing if the things that happen in cyber space did not have an effect in the physical world, however, what happens in the digital world can have significant impact in the physical world. This is because we populate the digital world with an extension of who we are. We are as we think, scripture says. And boy do we express what we think in the digital world. Framing that world with our words and thoughts is a poetic emulation of God framing the world by His words.
It is no wonder that the things we say in the digital world have such great consequences in the physical world. The collection of things we say, do and observe also leave a trail in the digital world bearing our unique signature. The unique signature that we imprint on the digital world is essentially our digital identity. Like God’s Word that endures forever, the things we contribute to the digital world seem more and more likely to endure throughout human history. It can be a frightening thing to conceive if we ponder it. But, too often, we don’t ponder our digital activity.
Given that we are all created to reflect God’s eternal and ethereal existence, it is a phenomenal privilege for us to be alive when humanity learned to emulate this aspect of God. After all, God is Spirit and we (humanity) are created in His image whether we acknowledge it or not. And David writes about no matter where in creation he tries to go, God is there. Even in the darkest most distant abyss, God has access and visibility. We are destined to be eternally connected to God and whatever we do will in the end display His image in us…even when we are actively resisting Him.
In this way, His love towards us is long suffering and enduring. And it is for this reason that the notion of our digital security should not be approached with fear but with confident hope that there is a solution. With our lives hid with Christ in God and the scriptural advice to not be ignorant of the devices of the enemy, there is a healthy approach to address what seems extremely scary with balance. Let us consider an example from the physical world to help glean some principles and concepts to help improve our digital hygiene.
If I am expecting a delivery to my home, I would be ok with sharing some information about my identity and location in order to receive that package. I may even share some information about my availability or schedule to make sure I’m present for the delivery. For an important package, I could request tracking for the package as well as require a signature to make sure that it is delivered and to the correct recipient.
I am ok sharing a reasonable amount of information for the service that I need. I would not expect the delivery company to then share that information with other companies for their own profit about my identity, location or schedule. I would not anticipate that the delivery person would deliver the package and then make themselves at home. Helping themselves to my life and eavesdropping on activities they find interesting to a third party that would pay them for it. If a shipping company insisted on doing this, I would seek legal intervention of some kind.
It seems ludicrous in the physical world, yet that is the current business model in the digital world. Our unique digital signature trail (metadata) as well as our activities (shopping lists, social media likes etc.) are being collected and sold without our consent. This happens because of an overstayed welcome by digital elements that hang around on our devices. Because they are not as visible as the delivery person and their vehicle that overstays their welcome, it is not as easy to point out or object to.
Where is the hope? Well, in some ways it is a violation. But, in other ways it is early accountability. When we consider 1 Corinthians 3:13-16, digital transparency is definitely early accountability. It is also uplifting to note that verse 16 clearly preserves the value of the human soul. It would be a misrepresentation to use this passage to project otherwise.
That was the hope, now here is the wisdom. There is an admonition in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that is interesting. It reveals that not knowing the devices of the enemy can expose us to being bested. In the same way, being aware of the value of your own digital identity can expose us to techniques that take advantage of us. Recognizing that although tech companies often are portrayed in the media as protecting us from unlawful government surveillance (which is appreciated), that they are also offering services that silently overstay their welcome.
Informed consent is important to have. Instead of playing that addictive mobile game or binging on the next Instagram and twitter trends, use your next window of down time to look through your mobile device settings. The user interface for majority of devices is pretty user friendly. Look at the Privacy Settings, browser settings, location services, contact settings, calendar settings and photos.
What do applications ask to have access to on your mobile devices? Is there a way to limit access to when you are using the app? Any background processes? Is ad tracking enabled? How many unused applications do you have installed? Private browsing to limit cookies? See a setting you don’t understand? Google it.
It may seem like a lot but, how many hours have you spent on those addicting games or just retail therapy browsing? Invest in your digital value. It is worth billions to advertisers. How much is it worth to you?