. . . for my kids. . . and good friends

Smart phone, stupid people

A few months ago we drove a non-European friend of ours over the border into Germany. Back in Amsterdam in time for tea, looking at the photographs on his iPad, we couldn't work out on which side of the unmarked border some had been taken.

Within seconds, he'd proudly called up a map, locating every shot. No argument, our journey was sketched out, Kleve and Nijmegen could be distinguished. "Err, it means they know exactly where we've been; how long we stayed; what we looked at." "Yes, but it saves us having to make notes about our photos!"

It shifted my growing unease into a kind of controlled terror. What better proof of the truly delusional Faustian bargain we've been suckered into?  In exchange for the ephemeral status of the latest device, we've traded our secrets.

I am not a Luddite; I am not a crank. We've been pioneers ourselves, pushing the limits for nearly 20 years, creating interactive web-sites, early-adopting useful technologies, encouraging others to do the same, finally blogging. But instinctively I've shied away from the relinquishing too much control and remained unacceptably sceptical.

Whose bloody cloud is it anyway? Do I really need my mobile every time I go for a walk? Why do I keep seeing ads for my own Aqaba apartment in every on-line publication? What's the point of Facebook if you don't want to share and befriend everything and everybody all the time; and who would?

Never suspend disbelief, at least not in the virtual world. And never forget the journalistic adage, follow the money. Why are they offering this to me, often for free? I've adopted (in a tiny way) the Google business model myself, and it does work -- give it away! And keep giving. And eventually you have the most powerful, focussed marketing tool that can be created.

It was reassuring to find my lone-voice resistance on paper last Sunday, and much more powerfully set out than I can manage. I've been relying on John Naughton since his 'Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet' in 2000; his weekly Observer column is always worth reading. The latest explores nine tech lessons of the past year.

Number 8 -- If you want privacy keep off the net. Or at least encrypt your stuff.

"In 1999, Scott McNealy, then the CEO of Sun Microsystems, famously observed that consumer privacy issues were a "red herring". "You have zero privacy anyway," he said. "Get over it."

"At the time, people wondered what Scott had been smoking. Now we know better. We have been sleepwalking into a networked world where privacy is ostensibly worshipped like motherhood and apple pie but is everywhere abused.

"You may wonder why particular ads seems to follow you everywhere you go on the web? Or why brands you "like" mysteriously turn up in your timeline and in those of your "friends". Google knows every YouTube video you've ever watched (and also what's in your Gmail). Facebook knows all of this stuff plus your real name.

"And, on the other side of the fence, the US National Security Agency (and possibly also its overseas franchises) is hoovering up all your electronic communications. The UK Data Communications Bill suggests that our domestic agencies have similar ambitions. And western countries are still selling electronic surveillance kit to repressive regimes all over the world.

"The only real solution is to switch off your mobile phone and never again use the net. Failing that, you could try encrypting your email using something such as PGP. But that's not for the faint-hearted, so perhaps the rule to live by is this: don't put anything in an email that you wouldn't put on a postcard."

John Naughton's lesson number five on 'Facebook' is also worth reading. It's all here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 January 2013 09:39  

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