The right to privacy
Article 12 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights says "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks".
Google also emphasise that it cares only about improving your internet experience with the launch this month of its Customer Match programme. Now, when buy a product from a retailer that participates in the programme, they give your email address and purchase details to Google which looks to see if it can match it to any Google accounts and hence add to its global knowledge of what products you buy and are interested in. How is that supposed to help improve our internet experience? "Consumer expectations for immediacy and relevance are higher than ever", says Google, "and successful brands are those that connect with people in the moments that matter most to them". Google, it claims, is a company built on meeting people's needs in the moment. Does Google think more adverts are the key to improving your internet experience?
On the face of it, you can see why collecting some data helps Microsoft and Google build better operating systems and applications, but the problem is that there is just a fundamental lack of trust. For most people there is no alternative but to agree to the terms and conditions from the major players, and those terms are written in opaque and open-ended ways where you know it is entirely one-sided in favour of the corporation. This model is pervasive throughout the online industry, which damages many smaller companies because they are tarred with the same brush, no matter how much respect they give your privacy.
But with some organisations, such as healthcare services, confidentiality and privacy is surely paramount. Not so, it seems. This month, Pharmacy2U was fined £130,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). Pharamcy2U claims to be the leading NHS-approved online pharmacy. Instead of taking your doctor's prescriptions to your local pharmacy, you can have them sent to Pharamcy2U, pay online, and have the medicines delivered to your home. The ICO fine is because it had offered customer names and addresses for sale through an online list broker without the patient's consent. In a statement, the MD of Pharamcy2U said "we are grateful that the ICO recognise that our breach was not deliberate. As soon as the issue was brought to our attention, we stopped the trial selling of customer data". Not deliberate? Did they sell the data by accident? Whatever the reason, most people are shocked to think a healthcare company would even consider selling any of their data.
The likes of Google, Facebook and many others have accumulated vast amounts of detail about us which we would consider deeply personal and confidential. We have no way of opting out and they see no reason to stop collecting every scrap they can find, what websites you visit, what time of day you use the computer, where you take your mobiles, what you buy, who your friends are, how many children you have. Creepy stalkers don't know this much about you, the police don't know this much about you, but the advertising industry knows more about you than you know yourself.
Privacy may be dying, but we shouldn't give it up without a fight.
28th October 2015
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.