Privacy and Data Protection


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.

Image: Occhiata   |  Franco   |   CC BY 2.0


Quantified Self

There are apps and devices out there to measure everything; including you.

Want to know how far you walk each day? What you’ve eaten? How you slept? What your genes are? Or monitor your mood?

There are tools/apps for all that and more.

The first step is some form of data collection; this could be via a wearable sensor, a phone app, a test or self reporting. Here are some examples;

Wearable Sensor most often are used for collecting data on your activity, the most famous is perhaps the Nike+ Fuelband, which tracks your activity allowing you to see your improvement, compete with friends and post annoying progress reports on your facebook page.

Phone Apps can also be used to track activity, including activity of a different kind, Sleepcycle is an app designed to wake you at the ideal time in your sleep cycle, and to work you need to put the phone in contact with your mattress so that it can translate your sleep movement into sleep patterns. It then sets the alarm off when you are in a light part of your sleep cycle, making the waking up experience much easier.

Another app looks at your heart rate, via an ear sensor, to monitor to your reaction to stress and stimuli.

Bar codes can be scanned for a number of uses, often for price comparison, but more interesting to check for ingredients which is important for allergy sufferers, an nutritional information which is helpful for dieters such as the WeightWatchers app. Some apps combine the food intake with the activity measurements.

Genetic testing 23 and me, this test will check for the genetic markers of diseases, analyse your ancestry and give you information on genetic traits. The test costs 99 USD, and they will ship internationally for another 79 USD.

I’m curious enough to do the test; I may find out if I will inherit otosclerosis which has left my mother deaf. I’m also curious about the bitterness taste marker, I can’t stand Brussels sprouts and this might give me the excuse I need.

It’s interesting that people are starting to use these tools to motivate them to change behaviour, friends who use Nike’s fuelband or similar tools find it motivating to see their progress. Given that we under-report food intake when we self report analysing our food in real time may help people adjust their food choices. And the genetic testing has given some people better understanding of genetic issues; the film on the 23andme website shows a case study when a woman found a marker for Celiac disease and on further testing was found to be a correct diagnosis.

There are concerns regarding data privacy and use of the data – Insurance companies could adjust all their risk calculations on the basis of the genetic testing for example. But in a world of an “obesity epidemic” these are powerful tools for individuals to monitor and change their health patterns.

Image numbers via pixabay


I can’t believe it; Lord Sugar goes all modern and has the teams build apps.

The girls’ team, led by Edna, went with the concept of annoying noises. Their app gave the users a chance to play noises in three categories; annoying, animals, and celebrations. This idea came from Felicity, there may have been a more brilliant idea from Susan but no-one could understand it. Their design was appalling, the pitches were bad. Edna nominated herself to do the big live pitch and then did the weirdest presentation I have ever seen; complete with spooky voices, dramatic pauses and gloves. I can’t remember the app name and I’ve only just watched the programme.

The boys’ team came up with another sound based app – the opportunity to play a snippet of text in a local accent. The idea came from Glen, and the team was led by Leon. Their campaign was better, the show was better, their pitches were better. It was quirky and the name “Slangatang” was memorable.

They made a fatal mistake; it didn’t have global appeal. In the first six hours it outsold the girls’ app 3 to 1. But then, as Karren Brady said, “the world woke up”. It got another 900 or so downloads to a total of 3,900, while downloads of the girls’ one rocked up to 10,000.

The boardroom was high on the entertainment scale; Leon the project manager couldn’t decide who to take into the boardroom but ended up with Glen (the idea guy) and Alex who hadn’t shone in tonight’s task.

I did think Leon, in the boardroom for the second time, might be for the door. But Lord Sugar went for the wallflower and fired Alex.