Today is all about privacy. No Google doodle to go with it because Google is at the centre of the debate with its harmonisation of privacy rules across all of its services.
The European commissioner of justice, Viviane Reding says there are “doubts” over what Google has done. I’m not going to go into detail on the ins and outs – read about that in the Guardian. Commissioner Reding though in my experience is someone worth listening to so she is expressing concern there is likely to be something in it.
It is worth thinking about privacy for a moment because in our modern age it is a hugely complex subject.
If I do a search for “Trefor Davies” Google comes up with 363,000 results and 7 out of 10 of those on the front page are links to me (plus 8 out of the next 10). I don’t know how many of the total are me but it must be a fair few. In fairness the nature of my job involves me making a lot of noise about me and my company on the internet and hopefully this level of visibility is a reflection of how successful I am at doing it.
However whilst many of the results pertain to Timico and Trefor.net a good proportion of the high rankers relate to sources of information that are personal and would be there for most users of the internet.
5th up is 192.com. on this site I can see names and addresses from the BT Directory Enquiries database, Companies House Director Reports or information from the Edited Electoral Roll. It tells me I am in the 50 – 54 age bracket (only just mind you), my home phone number and address, and if I cared to hand over some cash I could find names of other occupants of the house ie my family, information on me as a company director, names of my neighbours and how much I paid for my house, court judgements involving me (there are none in case you are wondering – save your cash). There are also links to searches for family records that allow you to find your mother and spouse’s maiden names1.
Other Links on the front page include my Facebook (6th) and LinkedIn (4th) profiles and Quora (3rd for some reason) which I have only used once and dropped it as a complete waste of time.
Digging into this I asked someone to look at my social media profiles to see what they could see. To my surprise they could see all about me on Facebook. They could also see everything on LinkedIn which is less of a surprise as I open it up to people wanting to look in at my business life.
I thought I had my Facebook profile locked down to just friends but allowing third parties to find me. After all I want old pals I have lost contact with to be able to see that it is me and come knocking. It doesn’t look as if this is possible – at least I couldn’t see how. I don’t like this.
I guess the point is that it is blooming complicated and a lot harder these days to be a private person. What’s more in an age where information about you can be extracted and processed very easily, automatically in fact without even the need for a click, it is pretty impossible to trust platforms that at their core want to extract every last bit of information about your private life for their own commercial ends.
As for Google they have on the quiet been one of the biggest culprits. Last month I went searching for an old pal from Boston (Massachusets) and was able to track him down via his company website. Next day I was on my son’s blog and blow me down there was a banner ad for my friend’s company. I was initially very impressed with the extent of his advertising reach until I realised that this was Google’s behavioural monitoring in place. Should I be worried about this? Is it a generational thing? I told someone recently that I usually rejected applications’ requests to use my location data. This 23 year old was surprised – it seemed natural for him. In the event most apps seem to know my location anyway!
The fact that Google knows what I like is one thing but because I use a wide range of their services they also have access to a huge amount of other personal data about me including photos of my kids. The Google position is that it respects its customers’ privacy. Where should the privacy line be drawn though? And we all know that staff in large corporations are for ever under pressure to grow the bottom line – where there is temptation…
I bumped in to a neighbour on the platform of Newark Northgate train station this week. I discovered that he worked for a business specialising in data mining. ”We can do in minutes what used to take days” he said. So not only is there now a vast amount of data out there on me but it is becoming ever easier to do something with it. Pretty soon I imagine the advertising industry will disappear – they will only need a few people to manage the whole world’s online campaigns.
The platforms I have discussed here are hugely popular and are also very expensive to operate so we should expect that there is some way for them to make money. It must however be getting to the point where something needs to be done about how they can use information about you.
I’m not sure that I know the answer but am happy to enter the debate. Privacy – a thing of the past?
1 How many of you use your mother’s maiden name as the secret question for password resets?