C is for Confidentiality

Back in 2004, the then UK Information Commissioner said in an interview that he was concerned that people were sleepwalking into a surveillance society. The warning was too late then, and today we live in what can better be described as a saturation surveillance society. It’s everywhere and although it might have some benefits, it is excessive and as technology has advanced, it’s debatable as to whether some of the product is even admissible evidence any more. What you hear on a recording may just be words spliced together, and even what you see with your own eyes on a video may just be CGI.

Confidentiality about sensitive information held on you in computer databases is largely yours to control, believe it or not.

Before we get stuck in, it’s worth saying you don’t need any fancy software or hardware to achieve the above, you just need to keep a beady eye on the worst person who habitually compromises your confidentiality – that would be you. You have to have the sort of mindset you’d have if in conversation with a stranger. Why are they asking for so much information or more usually, why am I volunteering all this information without even being prompted? As Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook wrote in an email that became public in a legal dispute with some former employees – if the “dumb fucks” are stupid enough to give me all their information for free, I’ve no problem selling it on.

Think before you type because as always when it comes to security, you are your own worst enemy.

That’s the obvious source of data leaks out of the way, but it’s not the one a multi-billion dollar big tech business relies on to get the most saleable information about you from the person themselves. That’s a lot more subtle and surer. Any interaction you have with social media is recorded, and while the hard data such as your name and DOB is useful, if only for indexing your file, it’s what sites you visit, what issues you hunt for information on and even what articles you decide to click on and interact with is where the real information about you with some resale value is gleaned.

For instance, every time you click a “like” button on something, it’s noted. The same with the “dislike” button. There’s even something to be deduced by you doing neither on an issue you chose to look at. As a thought experiment, think of designing a form with a few innocent looking statements on it and underneath each one a like and dislike button. If the hidden intent of the form was you actually trying to find out their broad political views, how many statements would you put on the form? Five perhaps, or even ten? That’d probably be more than enough to get a rough idea of their political position just from their like/dislike/neither choices.

Now imagine you design a form with a couple of thousand statements and they obligingly work their way through it and what’s more, all their friends start to do the same as well. Let’s push the thought experiment further and put that form on the internet so that for instance, a good chunk of Facebook’s 3.7 billion regular monthly active users start interacting with it. That volume and quality of freely given, accurate and indirectly obtained knowledge – not data – about a person is pure gold once it’s been thoroughly cross-indexed, collated and saved. It’s no wonder they’re making billions.

There’s very little offered by big tech that isn’t studded with buttons such as like or dislike. Echo buttons, reply buttons, report buttons, block buttons, the list goes on and on. You might think you’re joining in some happy clappy community and just giving some feedback to whoever, but what’s actually happening is the only feedback, AKA data collection, that’s being done is on you, and you’re the one offering it.

Not only do you have an ongoing mass market snapshot of people’s changing attitudes to products, ideas, trends, politics and everything else, but once things like your buying habits are all linked together under your name, they’ve got a very accurate idea about you in particular. You’ve got data on people as a mass and you’ve got information on each of them in particular.

You’re thinking about refurnishing your house or going through a divorce? Don’t be surprised if all these very targeted ads for furnishing bargains or good divorce lawyers start adorning your daily rummage through your email inbox, after all, you’re not the only one reading your emails.

I used buttons as an example of the ways you are being profiled because it’s easy to understand how that works, but there are many other methods just as subtle and unobtrusive being used. The point of this article is to raise your awareness of the detail and extent to which you are actually being surveilled.

All of this is being done automatically without a single person being in the loop except you. If you happen to have a Harvard Law School degree, you might have spotted you signed away your permission when you clicked on that okay button to their T&Cs years ago.

The single point of failure in that whole process is you refusing to be profiled so deceptively by not engaging with the hidden data miners and above all doing all your interactions on the web cloaked, which means little or nothing you do on it can be linked together.

A number of years back, Google came out with a really zippy dippy product called Google Glass. It was essentially a pair of spectacles with a small camera attached to the outside of the frame. It was so you could record all those wonderful social events you went to. Contrary to all the launch ballyhoo and hype, it bombed spectacularly and in the end, anyone wearing them was actually banned from dances, restaurants, bars and other places. Why was that?

It was because everybody in camera shot of the wretched thing knew they were being watched and recorded. If people were actually aware of how much under mass surveillance they are every time they use the internet, I suspect big tech would go the way of Google Glass.


Related articles by Pointman:

Your survival kit – Get off radar.

Fighting Big Tech – Some general thoughts on protecting your personal data

The things you’ll be told that aren’t true.

Click here for a list of all articles in the Stop the Steal series.

Click for a list of other articles.

3 Responses to “C is for Confidentiality”
  1. dai davies says:

    Something I’ve not seen mentioned is the ability to track how viewers scroll through a web page. Lots of information there.

    Totally different front: we are being encouraged, or forced, to use automatic electricity meter reading. Here, I gather, the sampling rate is 15 min, though I see no reason why this couldn’t be shorter later on. Every electrical device in your house has a signature – watts used and how this changes. Over time, the precise daily habits of each individual in a household could be mapped.

    Expect personal nagging or actual punitive measures on a soc-cred basis. Electric blankets that can tell how many people are in a bed, or how restless they are? Did you have a bad night after that political announcement?


  2. Russ Wood says:

    My son got me a British mini-series called “The Capture”, about how one can no longer trust even a video recording that’s apparently ‘live’. Good ‘whodunnit’ drama as well.


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