Forget Prism and the National Security Agency. The real threat to your privacy is you
It took the rest of us the entire history of the human race to decide our social norms – and Mark Zuckerberg just a few hours to toss them aside
Just three years later, geotagging has become a social-media norm. To someone as resolutely unhip as me, geotagging a post or a status update seems about as sensible as standing on a street corner and handing out cards with your home address and the words “Rob me” printed on some, and “Stalk me” on the rest. But the cool kids don’t seem to care, merrily checking themselves in every time they pop around to the shops or end up drunk in someone else’s bed.
Smarter the phone, bigger the exploitation
There’s a simple rule of thumb about advances in smart-phone technology. The more your phone is capable of doing, the greater the likelihood that someone will use it to exploit you. Now that we live in a world in which a phone is no longer just a communication device, but also a sleep monitor, a pedometer, a food diary, a restaurant loyalty card, a personal banking service, and a permanent, omnipresent tracking device, the capacity for exploitation is dizzying.
Meanwhile, if you’ve ever wondered why none of this technology costs you more than the price of a small double-shot latte, here’s why – it’s because you are the product. All those gurning photos of you on holidays and at your school reunion? All those wasted hours spent playing Farmville and cyberstalking your former classmates? They’re the reason why Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire, and the reason why so many would-be Zuckerbergs are thrusting their products at you for free.
The European data-protection authorities recently issued a joint opinion on mobile apps, warning that they implied “significant risks to the private life and reputation of users”. The paper points out that, of the estimated 1,600 new apps uploaded to app stores every day, many are the work of a guy sitting in his underpants in a bedsit somewhere – or, as they put it, a “single programmer with an idea and little or no prior programming skills [or awareness] of the data-protection requirements.”
If you’re not actually calling up terrorists to exchange bomb-making tips, the current wisdom goes, you shouldn’t really care whether your data is being harvested by the NSA or even by the start-up that invented that dinky little app you’ve been using.
Well, take that dinky little app, the one that allows you to record your daily calorie intake and exercise regime, and to share your results online – that’s all very well, until your health-insurance company decides it would like a peek at this data too, and discovers that instead of your declared 14 units of alcohol, you’ve actually been putting away 72, and mainlining curry chips every night for a year. And that’s just one example.
We have two options. We can either decide to be more selective about what we share, or we can choose to be flattered by the notion that an entire Swat team is holed up in Utah, busily trying to decode what you meant when you said on Facebook that you intended to get “destroyed” in Martha’s Vineyard this summer.
Call me a dinosaur, but I’m going with the former option.