Thursday, March 1, 2012

Playing hide and seek with data protection

You can't hide from me
We all know the game 'Hide and Seek', I loved playing it as a kid and it's always been one of my favourite games. Yet the game's essence of hiding is apparent in some of today's internet users who are adamant they will not be found. They hide behind anonymous proxies, ip addresses that lead nowhere, servers that mask their identities. They refrain from posting anything online that will ever connect others to their real personas, they mask themselves in lies, deceit, paranoia, fear and anger. Anger that no one is taking notice, anger that our data is being taken from us, that our liberties are being eroded and that we are losing control of our real identities that some believe are being sold to the highest bidder.

The answer is very simple but one that they don't wish to adhere to - don't go online. Ever.

Joking aside, there is an element of truth in this debate. As users of the internet we give away a vast amount of data every time we connect, every time we check our emails, every time we write a blog post, post a picture, listen to music, watch a video. Every site we visit is logged unless the user is surfing anonymously or has a cookie blocker. How many of you have a Google account? I'm sure you have heard the 'panic' around your search history data and what Google might do with it if you let them continue logging it in the background. How long have you been using the internet? When did you first sign your name to an email service, or a blog? Have you given Facebook your information? Do you know who else might be using it?

You can see how easy it is to get a little paranoid about this. Data liberation is discussed on blogs and forums, the media have reported on it and even leaders of nations discuss it. Google has recently changed it's privacy policy to bring together all its services under one policy to make it easier for users to keep tabs on everything but that has caused panic in some circles with many users now deleting their search history that Google has kept on them. As an educator interested in using technology I have embraced the use of the internet and knowingly have signed my data away. And that doesn't bother me in the slightest. My life is already on file in various places - birth record, passport office, employment agencies, police, army (I was born in northern Ireland), Tax office, Drivers Licence, banks, credit card, store cards, Teacher agencies, hospital records, health agencies, TV licence, Insurance companies. And then there are the countries I have visited on holiday and those that I have lived in, Venezuela and Spain have a lot of data about me on file someplace. So no, I'm not worried about my data being online.

Protecting your data doesn't have to involve secrecy, hidden IP addresses, proxy servers and never revealing your identity online. It involves common sense, using different strong passwords across your online accounts and accepting that using the internet will involve giving away some of that data you hold dear.

NB - You can very easily opt out of Google's data collection by not signing into any of Google's products when you go online. They even provide a way for you to opt out of Interest Based advertising whilst browsing not that you would have known with the plethora of sites screaming how terrible these changes in its Privacy Policy were going to be.

So, are you still hiding?