There are no surviving letters from Captain Cook to his wife, she burnt them saying they were “too personal and sacred”. We’re losing the idea that some things might be worth holding as personal and sacred. Part of that is our own doing, we’re sharing more images, texts and posts than ever (today’s count = 2 blog posts, 5 images, 4 links, spread across seven accounts). But a bigger part, a scary part, is from the technologies we use and the changing government rules.
Governments are taking more and more of our data. Last year the UK government expanded its surveillance powers last year with the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which creates a government database to store the web history of every citizen in the country.
But perhaps the most insidious increase in data collection is via our mobile phones. I don’t share personal information on Facebook itself (I lied about my date of birth), but if I leave the application permissions on default then I grant Facebook the right to data from my calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, sms, and storage. The location data means that Facebook knows where I live, where I work, and where my favourite cafe is. The contact data means they potentially know my mother’s home phone number.
Your phone knows more than you realise, health data from your fitbit, stored passwords for your banking account, your exact location – either via the location app or via wifi pings. And beyond Facebook we install dozens of apps and grant them permissions, in this edition of the BBC’s “Click” programme they report on an app that collects a frightening amount of data, which happens to have been downloaded 50M downloads.
In general it doesn’t really matter if someone knows where I work, I publish that information on LinkedIn anyway, and it probably doesn’t matter much that someone finds out where I live. But it might. For vulnerable people – those escaping domestic violence, refugees, protesters – this is information that they definitely want to keep private. (Here are some practical tips to secure your phone, from encryption to app management. )
In fact the EU Charter on Human Rights asserts that data protection is a human right with the words “Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her” and there is debate on whether this should be a global human right. If you think we have a right to privacy then it’s a pretty short step to thinking data protection must be an important part of that.
Tomorrow is Data Protection Day, celebrate by adding two factor authentication to your accounts, checking app permissions and adding encryption to your phone.