Tag Archives: Privacy

State surveillance is not comparable to online privacy issues

Often, when opposing state surveillance such as that revealed by Ed Snowden, activists are questioned why they use online services that actively collect data about them. There is one core reason why this comparison is unhelpful and irrelevant.

“You are the product” goes the saying, which is true. Companies like Google and Facebook collect streams of data about who we are and what we do. Some have called this “self-surveillance”.

When we “self-surveil” and grant companies the ability to use – and sell – our data, we expect – and get – something back. We get a service. We pay a small privacy price (largely inconsequential, I’d argue) in exchange for a service.

On the other hand, the state demands we let them take our data. They chose warrant-less mass-collection over targeting, leaving us in the dark about what they’re collecting. We get nothing in return – there is yet to be a convincing case, backed up with evidence, that the mass surveillance of the citizenry in any way makes us safer.

There is one, undeniably crucial difference however.

The state has the power to use that data against us in a devastating way.

We can be detained, without charge, for fourteen days – the longest pre-charge detention period of any comparable democracy. Previously this limit was 28 days, and there was an attempt to raise it to 90 – that’s 3 whole months of being locked up for being a suspect.

Outside of detention, the state has the power to severely limit our activities with only “suspicion” as a reason, destroying the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

I don’t see any social networks able to limit my civil liberties…

Image: CC-BY-SA George Rex

Stop whining about privacy: YOU are the one GIVING it away

Following Facebook’s announcement of their “Home” app, many people seem to have read Om Malik’s melodramatic cry over spilt milk:

Om says, “But there is a bigger worry. The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time.”

Yes, it can Om, you’re right. And how does it do that, exactly? I’ll tell you shall I… Here’s a step-by-step;

  1. You download the app
  2. You agree to the app using  your GPS
  3. You open the app
  4. You allow the app to take over the home screen

OH MY GOD! I’ve suddenly realised how awful Facebook is – taking all that information from you without your consent(!)

Justifying his lying on the floor kicking and screaming, Om continues, “Facebook, a company that is known to have played loose-and-easy with consumer privacy and data since its very inception..”

Again, he’s spot on. But rather than make his point this shows how pathetic his argument is. If anything, that should have prepared him for the inevitability that Facebook will use his data. He appears to be saying,

“I can’t believe Facebook is using the huge amount of data about my life that I handed over!”

My response to Om, and anyone else whinging about their privacy within the Facebook wall, is;

If you willingly hand over any data about your life to any company whose terms, which you agreed to, state they can use that data then they will bloody well use it. If you don’t like it, don’t fucking hand over your data, you moron!

My next rant will be about why I LOVE handing over my data! 😉

Update: Instead of of that second rant, just read this which I agree with completely. In fact, I’m already allowing Google to track my every move and loving the benefits I’m getting.

How to protect your data: don’t give it away! And how Facebook isn’t to blame… much.

This won’t be popular, I know, but the election did show me very well how we can all have very differing opinions and get along like a house on fire at the same time. So here goes…

I won’t regurgitate the details, if you’re reading this you probably know what it’s about. Let’s look at this sensibly;

  1. Facebook is a web site – it’s on the World Wide Web, a globally-accessible, publicly-available open network.
  2. Your Facebook is protected by a password- that’s all. No secure server, nothing. So it’s not that secure anyway.
  3. You accepted the terms & conditions and everything that goes with them.
  4. You choose what information you put onto Facebook. Anything that can be seen publicly is as a result of your actions.

Bearing this in mind I find it hard to see why so many people are so up in arms that their ‘data’ is out there.

I will concede that Terms & Conditions are often pretty damn cheeky with lines like “we reserve the right to change these T&Cs without actually telling you” which is, in my opinion, unethical and yes, significant changes should be subject to acceptance of new terms and conditions, just like you have to accept new friend requests.

That shows that the problem is not in what Facebook is doing so much as what it asks you it can do. You give it permission to do what it’s done, then later when it actually happens and you actually realise what the unintended consequences were, you attack Facebook.

Facebook is only to blame for it’s lazy Terms and Conditions. They’re certainly not the first though and won’t be the last.

Thing is, we all know none (or very few) of us actually bother to read the T&Cs and that is no-one’s fault but our own. It’s kinda hard to expect anyone to do that when their privacy policy is reportedly longer than the U.S. constitution. I don’t honestly expect anyone to actually read that.

What I would like to see however is people taking ownership of their actions. Realising that the data is out there because they made the decision to put it out there, rather than being horrified when Facebook changes the way it publishes that data.

Facebook can only do that because you gave it your data in the first place. I only put information on the web that I’m comfortable telling any random stranger on the street. Therefore, I’m not bothered how Facebook uses that information (including making it available to third party apps & web sites) because it’s nothing sensitive.

The bottom line is, take ownership of your data. Don’t give it away if you wouldn’t be willing to tell a stranger, ’cause that’s all Facebook is – a stranger – despite the close relationships you may maintain on the site.

What part of your privacy does Google StreetView encroach upon?

Google StreetView car by I See Modern Britain


Right from the start I’ve been fairly dismissive of privacy concerns over Google StreetView.

In my view, Google are just snapping what any general member of the public can see in that place at that time anyway. It’s already “in the public domain”, so to speak.

I haven’t had the fortune to come across a staunch opposer to StreetView yet, but if I did, as I commented over at MySociety, I would ask them, “What part of your privacy goes Google StreetView encroach upon exactly?”

Sunbathing naked in your back garden? I’m your neighbour, I can see you out my window…

Walking to the shops? I’m walking my dog, I see you. We even pass each other on the pavement and say hello.

Leaving an adult video store? You’re in public, the public will see you. If you don’t like being seen, stay at home and order off the internet or by phone.

Are you an anti-StreetView kinda person? Tell me exactly what it is that makes you uncomfortable about StreetView. Am I being too dismissive, missing the point etc?