Here’s Looking At You

Jul 04, 2013 No Comments by

Just a sec while we get all Siobhan Sharpe… OK, here’s the thing.  Actually a few things.

Are you worried about anyone – government, naughty people, companies that want to flog you something – poking their nose into what you do online?

Before you answer consider the mantra of politicians in this regard: if you’ve nothing to hide you’ve nothing to fear.

What a steaming pile of cock that is.  It marks the spouter down as both an imbecile and having no respect for the intelligence of the online public.  We all have something to hide, even if it’s only that we are currently suffering from a nasty rash.  There are some things that are just none of anybody’s business.  Anybody’s.

No human being or accumulation of human beings can possibly monitor the billions of online exchanges that occur every day.  To have any chance of intercepting naughty people with explosives or other destructive items, computer codes must be written that predict, on the basis of, say, the occurence of key-words in an e-mail’s contents, whether that email is worthy of further analysis.  If it was only the US or UK governments that were engaged in such activity  it would still be cause for concern but it’s not.  Anyone with the necessary coding chops can snoop on you.  That’s what cookies are for. Google does it. Amazon does it.  Microsoft does it.  And you will have agreed to let them. Somewhere in the ‘life’s too short’ screed that masquerades as the EULA (End User – that’s you – Licensing Agreement) there will be tiny writing that says these Internet big nobs can do what they like with your data.  And you will have agreed to this.  Just as thousands of morons agreed to mortgages they never had any chance of repaying.  No one reads the small print.  And even if you did and refused to accept the terms of, say, Apple’s EULA for iTunes the consequence would be denial of access to that software.  If you want to play online and especially if you want lots of lovely stuff for free, you must, as they say, suck it up.  Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch but there certainly isn’t such an animal as the free download.  There is always a price to be paid.  Read Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Andersonfor confirmation.

Any digital or electronic communication can be intercepted and eavesdropped upon.  Aspiring terrorists – unless they’re unfeasibly dumb or are auditioning for Four Lions II – will use the good old Royal Mail to plan their atrocities.  It’s a criminal offence punishable by very many years in jail to open another person’s post without their consent.  If the police want to do this they need a court order signed by the Home Secretary.  If the police want to read your emails, though, there’s nothing (much) to stop them.  So if you’re involved in illegal activity and aren’t a bottom-feeding muppet, you will not betray yourself online, or on a mobile phone, or a phone of any kind.  Any digital communication can be hacked, legally or otherwise.

It’s slightly bizarre that we have any trust in the Internet at all.  For years now there’s been an almighty stampede to get everything online.  We shop online, bank online, socialise online and, most importantly for the data miners – we search.  Go onto Google, or any search engine, and search for, say, cruise holidays, and advertisements for cruise holidays will subsequently follow you like an eager puppy wherever you go online.  If you have a Twitter account, chances are you will have given Twitter access to your address book and to the comings and goings of your email.  Recently TF was sent a personal email which had also been sent to one other recipient.  Within minutes we were being asked if we wanted to follow that other recipient on Twitter.  No we don’t, thanks.  He’s a twat and so are you, Twitter, for not knowing that, given that you seem to know so much else about us.  There is no mechanism to police such activity; why would there be?  It’s legal.  But neither is there a reliable mechanism to monitor data mining that slips over into being not legal at all.  And if there is, the sanctions, compared with those that could be levied against postal snoopers, are minimal.

There’s a fascinating (aren’t they all…) article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker 24th June about ‘privacy in an age of publicity’ and because that magazine has changed the way it allows non-subscribers to access its content on-line, even you, denizen of the great unwashed, can read it here

Aside from a brief history of privacy in communications (being able to read and write was enough to confer informational superiority for hundreds of years) the piece also mentions the ‘paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.’

Social media has created a generation of blabber-mouth show-offs desperate for attention and approval.  It’s a racing certainty that more people would ‘like’ a Facebook photo of Mrs Fogey with her baps out than one in which she is fully clothed.  Fortunately she is wise and demure, so this scenario will remain for ever hypothetical.  Unless she gets more roaring drunk than we’ve ever seen her and then, well, who knows?  She’s developed a taste for tequila. Which might be temporary.  Or not.

In an era in which prejudice of any kind is either immoral, illegal or both, the need (real or imagined) to differentiate and separate will send those who would pass judgement to your Facebook page, Instagram account or Twitter feed. It’s also possible that the company you work for could monitor what you might consider ‘personal’ communications; those made outside work hours at home.  Some companies are terrified of industrial espionage or the dissemination of sensitive information and will need to be assured that employees don’t share what they shouldn’t, so your contract might include a clause that gives your employer the right to monitor your digital life outside the office.  In the US the law is different than in the UK where, unless you work for a publicly accountable body (and are therefore bound by the Freedom of Information Act), it is difficult for your employer to infiltrate your email account without your permission, even after you’ve left the company.  But rather like with the EULA, there might be a circumstance whereby, unless you give permission to snoop, you don’t get the job.

On the face of it, Sally Bercow’s libellous tweet could have been viewed as an innocent, simple, if rhetorical, question.  It was the interpretation of it that lost her the case.  ‘She knew what she was doing,’ seemed to be the general consensus.  At a recent social gathering one of our party remarked to a woman in her 60s, ‘I see you’ve gone ugly early,’ which was a joke (stemming from a Top Gear conversation between Clarkson and Richard Hammond) at her husband’s expense.  Except she didn’t get it.  She thought she was being told she looked like an old minger whose face-slap and décolletage hadn’t lasted even an hour.  Joker and joked were both mortified and there was no undoing the damage.  Not least because she also thinks her husband is quite the fox.  Remove the irony from ‘I see you’ve gone ugly early,’ and it just sounds offensive.  Multiply such misunderstandings across billions of personal, digital communications and then factor in a computer algorithm that doesn’t do irony and perfectly innocent people could get themselves in the deepest doo-doo.  Just ask that bloke who jokingly tweeted that he was going to blow up some Midlands airport and then spent the next two years of his life (minus job) trying to get himself cleared of making what was. blindingly obviously, a joke.

And yet indiscretions still abound.  People say things online and post photos of themselves doing things that can lead to ‘likes’ but just as easily to trouble.  It seems many of us now place so much value on virtual popularity and the convenience afforded by e-commerce that we are either blind or indifferent to the possible consequences.  And don’t think for one second that online security software can protect you, or that the sombre assurances of those to whom you divulge your credit card details are worth a tuppenny fart.  Didn’t Sony, via the hacking of Playstation user account details, ‘lose’ millions of people’s personal, financial details back in 2011?  They surely did, as you can read here

Anyway, if you don’t like what’s being done with your online burblings, go offline, go analogue.  Or just shut up.  And while you’re keeping a low profile read I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy by Lori Andrews

Dust off that vellum and out with the quill!