IS PRIVACY A REAL ISSUE?
Who's Got Your Personal Data?
Posted by Andrew Spencer on 16/03/2012
I don't know if we have a major problem with intrusions on our personal privacy or not. I suspect we do but are not worrying about it enough. I am certain we don't know the extent of the issue and if we did we might be far more concerned than we are today. Or am I worrying for nothing?
we live in a goldfish bowl just like politicians and celebrities but we don't think about it
This post is not about answers because I don't have them but I want to post about some issues that have flown across my radar in the last few weeks and pose the question whether abuse of personal privacy is extensive and damaging.
We are in an era where our lives are being lived out in the cloud, whether that cloud is the Internet or dressed up as something else. We are increasingly engaged in social media interaction, most often on multiple platforms. We use Google search tools, YouTube, cloud computing on a personal and corporate level, we use smartphones and lots of apps. Our exposure to others is quite incredible. We give permission to apps to access our details on phones, we allow search engines to track what we are searching (how do you stop them?).
Most importantly there are vast amounts of data about us, our history, movements etc. being recorded and capable of abuse. We live in a goldfish bowl just like politicians and celebrities but we don't think about it! I know we have to trust someone/something with our activities because otherwise we would not do anything and we might as well become hermits, but can we trust those we use in our daily lives to respect our data and to respect our lives?
In the corporate world in days gone by you had to trust your IT administrators to respect even the most sensitive corporate data, because someone had to have full access to systems in order to maintain them, but at least you knew who had that access and you could control them. What is happening now is that your data is in the hands of people and organisations you don't know and you have no control over what they do with it.
Some issues that have crossed my path recently that I think illustrate the problem:
Privacy issues with Facebook continue to surface. It is quite obvious they are exploiting the mass of very personal data they hold about people to build associations, demographic profiles etc and to focus advertising and thereby charge a premium for that advertising. The temptations to go deeply down this route must be very high as apart from shared revenue from games this is the extent of their business model.
Google have just introduced new terms and conditions. These allow Google to monitor far more closely personal activity across their platforms and indeed share data between them. We are talking huge numbers of users across Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Google itself, Android (more of the that later) and the myriad other services they offer. I am a user of Gmail for business (email and calendars), Android, search engine, mapping and so on. How much do they hold on me? The rumour is that everything is being consolidated into one personal dossier.
A recent newspaper report flagged another issue. The first two have been talked about a lot but this one stopped me in my tracks. This report identified that the permissions granted by the user in return of using apps - including apps as innocuous as a torch app - means that a lot of data flows to the supplier of the app in return, including phone numbers, email addresses, phone location. What the user does not know is where that data ends up - and it is ending up all over the world - and it appears well outside the jurisdiction of the Data Protection Act.
The final issue I will highlight impacted very directly on me very recently. I have just taken possession of a Samsung Galaxy S2 phone. Great phone and I have had no problems setting it up or using it other than I have probably signed my life away through downloading apps. I got a big shock though when purely by chance I stumbled upon the fact that the phone was backing up to Google's servers. This appears to be a standard feature of the Android operating system on Samsung phones. Was I told this? No. Obviously I was not given the opportunity to agree to it or even think whether I wanted to back the phone up to anything other than my own machines.
The biggest shock in this was that it explicitly stated that it was sending my WiFi passwords to Google. This made the lack of permission incredible! Why would I want to give Google my passwords? It is all too reminiscent of the fuss over Google sniffing and analysing WiFi systems when they were doing the Street View photography. Why did they want that data then and why are they collecting it now?
The only plus I can see in my personal privacy environment at the moment is that my house does not feature on any SatNav or on StreetView (I live on a private road). Until very recently even the road did not exist on SatNav. So burglars and the curious cannot see how or where I live and if/when I come to sell my house I control the photos!
So is there a growing problem or should I stop worrying? I think I will carry on worrying. Every instinct I have tells me things are getting out of control, particularly as the really big players in the cloud world fight to the death over our loyalty and our spend.
So I am going to spend time researching to my satisfaction what is going on but I would very much welcome comment, thoughts, pointers etc. It would most helpful. Please email me or leave comment here (the latter will be recorded on FB).
Until next time ...
During Andrew's extensive business career he has worked in a wide cross section of companies, specialising in the creation of contact centres and business systems, software development, telecommunications and project management. Andrew's key skills are:
Business planning and strategy
Matching technology to business needs
Software development and implementation
Designing and implementing business systems
His work has included sourcing and implementing a new integrated telecoms system for National Energy Services, designing and project managing a new IT and telephony structure for the Greyhound Racing Association, and directing technology development for Wembley plc.