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Parliament and Internet Conference – Privacy

portcullisThe Parliament and Internet conference wound its annual way to Westminster yesterday. The conference usually comes up with a nugget or two and made the BBC news site with a comment from Andy Smith, PSTSA1 Security Manager at the Cabinet Office that he wouldn’t recommend using your real name when registering with sites like Facebook.

Lord Merlin Errol also noted that he used to give his date of birth as April 1st 1900 but that drop down boxed rarely went that far back these days. I guess there are still one or two 112 year old people around though whether they would be interested in social networking is another  issue.  Privacy  on the Internet, or lack of it, is something I’m still trying to get my brain around.

This came to the front of mind again this morning as a Facebook message appeared in my timeline asking me to confirm my mobile phone number. I did so, particularly as a mobile number is one way of recovering a lost password. Didn’t feel particularly comfortable doing it though. I don’t trust Facebook though irrationally I still use it.

Tom Scott, “futurist” (!) gave a highly entertaining talk about the “trail we leave behind” on the Internet. He noted that all internet traffic out of the parliamentary estate comes from two IP addresses and that people at these IP addresses had been responsible for edits to embarrassing but true bits of Wikipedia profiles of various Members of Parliament. In itself this isn’t big news but the point being made was the fact that you can’t really delete information that is out there.

It was ironic that Pirate Bay was not being blocked. Clearly Parliament isn’t using one of the ISPs subject to the court order forcing some ISPs to block the site (or is operating under different rules…).

Scott also showed a search for people’s mobile phone numbers on Twitter. We all thought it was very funny – there were lots of them. How silly of people to be careless with their personal data in this way.

Then thinking about it my own mobile number is published on the Timico website. It’s there for customers to call me if they have a real problem they want to escalate. It does occasionally get used for that purpose which is fine. Unfortunately it is mostly used by recruitment consultants and Indian outsourcing companies trying to sell me stuff. It’s a cross I have to bear.

So on the one hand I am concerned about Internet privacy but on the other hand use the Internet to broadcast notionally private information about myself.

I think what I really need is a personal firewall. A dashboard that allows me to see at a glance what information about me is visible out there. I want to be able to decide who can see what. Easily. A bit like google + circles but more comprehensive. I want customers and friends to be able to see me but not people trying to sell me things.  At least I want to be able to control the sales calls – maybe email only and filtered into a folder that I can occasionally look at at my own leisure, or not.

I want to be able to easily decide whether I get targeted ads. Those ads that google throws my way based on their intimate knowledge of my browsing habits. Sometimes they worry me and rarely do I think “oo that’s a highly relevant and well targeted ad, I think I’ll click on that”. In fact my personal firewall will also allow me to go incognito but still retain my history so that it’s easy to revisit websites. It will all be under my control.

This dashboard will also let me manage my passwords for various entities.I’m not asking for much.

Please help.

1 no I don’t know what it means either

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

3 replies on “Parliament and Internet Conference – Privacy”

Interesting footnote to this post. On Friday evening I was driving up to Durham for the weekend when the owner of the apartment we had booked called me on the mobile. He had lost my number but looked me up using Google.

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