Data Privacy Expert on the Irony of’s Word of the Year

, has chosen its “word of the year”. Thank the etymological gods it’s not selfie, twerk or hashtag. No, this year’s most relevant, most searched word is:


Call me geeky, but this is happy news to privacy experts, because it raises consciousness that this stuff (your right to keep certain information to your self) actually matters.

 And consciousness has definitely been raised in 2013:

  • Data security and privacy experts everywhere should thank Edward Snowden for exposing the NSA surveillance programs that monitor every American’s phone calls, Facebook posts and emails for signs of terrorism (and any other data they care to intercept).
  • Thanks to SnapChat for making deleted photos recoverable (despite claims they disappear).
  • Additional kudos to Google Glass for raising awareness on how easy it is to capture intellectual property as criminals videotape their way through Fortune 500 offices, record ATM PIN numbers of the bank customer in front of them and deploy instant facial recognition software in a variety of social engineering schemes.
  • And in the Coup de Grace of 2013, bonus points to Target for playing the Grinch in a massive holiday breach that exposed 40 million of their customers’ records (customers who actually shopped at Target, not online).

Here’s the ironical twist to the word of the year: violates your privacy at a standard higher than most other websites. You thought you were just looking up a word, right? Wrong – you are creating a traceable behavioral profile that can be sold to marketing firms worldwide. For example, when you type a word into, your “surfing profile” is immediately sold to 234 additional websites before you’ve even read the full definition. So when your daughter looks up “bankruptcy” while doing a term paper for high school, Chase Bank buys that information, scores you as a high risk candidate for financial default and, the next time you apply for a credit card, redirects you to a web page offering you a considerably higher annual APR. Brilliant, no? See more examples in my post Big Brother Lives in Your Browser.

I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, however (well, maybe a little). Thank you to for reinforcing the relevance of data privacy issues that quietly affect every one of us every day. Now, if privacy experts could just get to include a definition of data privacy that accounts for the idea of consent (that we get a choice of what to share and who to share it with), that would be real progress. In other words, data privacy is a matter of degree, not all or nothing.

John Sileo is an author and keynote speaker on privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to defend the data that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Higher Education Features Cyber Security Expert John Sileo

Universities perfect learning environment for data security

Higher Ed Organizations are among the highest risk groups to become victims of identity theft and data breach. Because students are relative “beginners” when it comes to personal finances, because university environments are predicated on trust and credibility, and because of the recent progress towards a mobile-centric, social-networking-dominated campus, higher education’s digital footprint is constantly exposed to manipulation.

"The most engaging speaker I've ever heard - period"

“The most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard – period.”  Debbie Bumpous, NSU Chief Information Technology Officer speaking about John Sileo

“John Sileo was the secret sauce in launching our cyber security awareness program” – University of Massachusetts Director of IT

Universities are 357X more likely to be affected by data breach than the average organization. High profile cases, some of which ended in class action lawsuits against the breached university include the University of Nebraska (650,000 breached records at an estimated cost of $92 million), UCLA, Auburn, Delaware, and Texas. Data theft is bad for students, time consuming for the administration and a public relations nightmare for the university. John Sileo knows their pain first hand, as he is generally the person contacted by universities after they have been breached. 

Video: watch John help a university prevent data theft before it happens

Universities Have a Distinct Advantage in the Fight for Data Privacy

There is genuinely optimistic news amidst the gloom and doom. Because of their teaching facilities, their communication channels and their understanding of pedagogy, universities small and large are uniquely equipped to train campus wide on the simple steps to keep private data secure before it is breached. But it takes the right speaker to introduce security in such a way that it connects with a mixed audience–student and faculty, young and wise, technologically-oriented and digitally-challenged.

John Sileo sets the standard for presentations that get students, faculty and administrators to emotionally connect to the critical nature of privacy, security and identity protection. Using his own personal story of identity theft, John interacts with your audience to gain “buy in” to the increasing importance of securing identity in a mobile-driven, social-media-dominated world.

“If the presentation is boring or overly technical, the campus won’t listen, won’t learn. John is anything but boring…”

Video: Hear what university leaders have to say about John’s ability to make it personal

John has spoken extensively for other universities to increase awareness on privacy, security and identity. Unfortunately, he’s usually brought in AFTER THE BREACH and asked to sign confidentiality agreements that don’t allow him to disclose his work with the university. And if there is someone that respects his client’s right to privacy and confidentiality when requested, John is it. We can say that John has worked with top ranked universities in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Nebraska, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania , Washington D.C., Utah, Wyoming and Virginia. We hope that your university/fraternity/organization chooses to proactively address the problem like those public references listed below:

Listen to what Universities have to say about John’s presentations

Wellesley College“Your presentation had the audience engaged from the first moment you started speaking. Data security is so often such a dry topic that it can be very challenging to get our users to listen to anything we have to say (let alone to show up). Your personal stories were both heart wrenching and thought provoking, and they provided an important backdrop for the lessons you were teaching. And you did all of this with humility, and a wonderful sense of humor, that caputred the audience’s attention. When people were leaving the event, many told me it was the best presentation they had ever seen and it was unanimous that was time well spent.”

— Donna Volpe Strouse, Information Security Officer, Wellesley College


UMASS“John’s presentation was excellent. He has a unique and skilled way of connecting with the audience and relating personal security to university security initiatives.”

“Felt like a knowledgeable friend grabbed me by the shoulders, slowed me down and saved me from getting into trouble.”

Engaging and entertaining delivery of what is typically a dry topic – it makes the message stick.”

“Compelling, persuasive, intelligent, common sense and passionate presentation that opens your eyes. Funny too!”

— Various CIO Coordinators and Attendees at the Six University of Massachusetts Campuses


Seal_of_Northern_State_UniversityThe most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard – period. As part of a campus-wide cyber-security awareness program, Northern State University hosted John Sileo on our campus. John’s presentation was the culmination of a month-long awareness campaign for faculty, staff and students and part of the National Cyber-Security Awareness Month. The presentation itself was of the highest caliber. John personally catered the content of his presentation to our unique and diverse audience members. John is an incredibly motivational presenter that can speak directly to any audience, of any age. Throughout his presentation, he actively engaged members of the audience, capturing and holding their attention. This engagement brought a personal touch to the presentation and underscored the importance of his message. I would highly recommend John Sileo as a presenter or guest speaker. His expertise, friendliness, and professionalism are exemplary.”

— Debbi Bumpous, Chief Information Technology Officer, Northern State University


Foundation_LogoThe Delta Gamma Foundation is the heart of the Delta Gamma Fraternity… One of the most successful programs we offer our collegiate and alumnae members is our Lectureship in Values and Ethics. Now present on 15 campuses throughout the United States (with 4 more Delta Gamma chapters in the process of completing their lectureship), our lectureship series has featured such nationally acclaimed speakers as Colin Powell, Queen Noir, Maya Angelou, Barbara Bush, Gerald Ford, Jeff Probst and many more.

On June 18, 2010, at our 64th biennial Convention in Denver, CO, the Delta Gamma Foundation sponsored our Convention Lectureship in Values and Ethics. This lectureship is very special because it is presented to the entire Convention body. Our guest speaker was John D. Sileo who spoke on identity theft prevention… John captivated an audience of 900 ranging in age from 19 to 90 telling his personal story of theft identity and educating all of us to intellectually understand the importance of one’s privacy. John is a story teller who tells a compelling story with humor, intrigue and ongoing audience interaction. The presentation was outstanding.

Delta Gamma continues to receive positive feedback on John’s presentation and performance. On behalf of the Delta Gamma Foundation, we would strongly recommend John for any audience of any age. His story needs to be told and shared.

— Roxanne LaMuth, Delta Gamma Foundation


CSC Wordmark 208- 2006John Sileo is the real deal. He speaks because he has something to say, but also because he is interested in his audience! If you host speakers, do yourself a favor and hire John… he will remind you of all that is good about offering a speaker to an audience.

Loree MacNeill, Chadron State College



Data privacy not really a big part of Big Data

Big Data is an economic juggernaut as well as a ripe opportunity to forfeit your profitable data privacy. Businesses and consumers should consider the potential costs – and what they hope to get in return. 

Not so long ago, the internet was a very different place. Users were advised never to give out their names or addresses, to avoid talking to people they don’t know and to keep all personal identifiers secret. Data privacy was something we were thinking about constantly, especially when it came to sensitive information. Cyberspace was thought first and foremost to be a place filled with strangers where we must tread with caution.

Today, we’ve swung too far in the other direction. We all but depend upon the internet to connect, to make ourselves public, to be seen by as many people as possible all over the world. Entire sites exist to promote us, and the sort of things we used to carefully consider before disclosing, we now sign away without a second thought, completely unaware of what we are putting on display.

Distracted from Data Privacy

In fact, a recent study conducted by a professor I respect highly (Allesandro Acquisti at Carnegie Mellon University – read the NY Times article) shows how incredibly easy it is to convince consumers to give up private data that, were we thinking clearly, we’d staunchly refuse.  What exactly does it take? Distraction. If we are distracted in the moment of making the decision to share our sensitive data (whether it’s a text, email or a special offer by the website requesting our info), we are far more likely to give more information than if we were not distracted. What is our online experience if not distracted!? In addition, the way in which online retailers ask for our information influences our willingness to give more than we should.

When was the last time you actually read through all of the “Terms and Agreements” that popped up when you joined Facebook or Twitter? This has happened slowly, and it’s been so gradual a change that most of us don’t even question it. Worse, many of the giants of social media have become so dominant that we often can’t afford to not be connected, as both professionals and individuals: many have become resigned to think of sharing their private information as a poison apple they have to bite. 

A report by the World Economic Forum recently highlighted the current use of personal data and proposed possible solutions to combat data abuse, such as penalizing applications that overstepped their bounds. The authors behind the paper posed that data could still be collected as long as there were proper checks in place preventing it from being exploited. It’s a topic of much debate right now, as companies and advocates battle to see the best way to ensure user security while pleasing marketers. Meanwhile, there are hackers, botnets and cyber-criminals waiting in the wings to exploit security gaps for their own purposes.

On the other hand, we can’t deny the benefits that come from sharing personal information either. Millions have used the ability to connect and share to gain fame and financial success. There are also some sectors, particularly healthcare, where transmitting personal details electronically could greatly improve or even save lives, all of which makes the role of proper data privacy protection even more essential.

It’s a time where we can’t afford to be lax or ignorant when it comes to the vagaries of the internet. Proper data privacy training can be the difference between an organization that’s safely protected from outside threats and a sitting duck.

John Sileo is a data privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media exposure, cyber security and identity theft. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.