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Tag Archives: privacy

The Great Internet Clearout: Most Things Must Go!

I’ve pretty much given up on blogging, mostly, I think, for the same reasons that I’ve never been able to keep a diary that lasted for longer than a few days, in which the entries would become shorter and shorter whilst increasing in tedium. My main worry is that I’m simply not interesting enough, or that my life isn’t particularly worth showcasing to the wider world. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary; granted most don’t do a PhD, but then most people would rather not be bored to tears with the sorts of things I find interesting (or they have a set opinion in their mind about how what I’m studying works based on what ‘They’ said -I’ve never been able to work out, or get anyone to explain to me, just who ‘They’ are; the Illuminati?). This desire to avoid talking about something beyond the usual quickly becomes apparent at the start of meeting someone.

‘…I’m currently working on concepts & thought, and what they consist of; are thoughts computational in the same way a Turing machine is, for example’

‘Oh cool…… So do you like football?’

Twitter and Facebook are two things I’ve also abandoned for largely related reasons. That and – just give me a sec whilst I adjust my tin hat- privacy concerns (seriously, I don’t know how everyone can be so comfortable with that stuff -‘What do you mean uploading all these pictures of me doing semi-illegal things to a private server where you’ve agreed that they can do what they they will with it, might, at some point, come back to haunt me; the recent obsession with linking Facebook profiles to amateur porn springs to mind). What becomes depressingly clear about social networking with friends, that is, having the ability to find out every single thing that a friend has, or hasn’t, interacted with at most points in any given day, makes you realise just how boring & uninspiring you -and people you know- are. What was nice about friendship (‘in the good old days!’) was that this strange thing called a ‘private life’ used to exist alongside your ‘public life’. Whilst your friends would get to know intimate parts of your life, they were usually spared the woefully dull aspects, like what you ate for breakfast or that really clever observation about people in queues you had that turned out to already be mass-printed on a t-shirt on some hipster clothes site. You knew about the important aspects of a persons life; you knew the hidden things that made them them. Now that everyone is OK (nay, obsessed) with habitually documenting every single experience of their lives in ‘the cloud’, that is no longer the case. When you used to meet up with friends, you related to them the more notable things they’d missed since you’d parted in order to fill them in. Now if you haven’t seen someone in a while (and that usually now means less than 24 hours) you just look at their profile and become overwhelmed by 3,000+ ‘updates’ made in the past hour; who has the time to wade through all that, especially once you multiply that by however many hundreds of people you might have as ‘friends’.

The great thing about actual clouds is that once they reach a certain size, they break up and the water that once comprised it falls as rain; in other words, it purges. The problem with ‘The cloud’ is that it doesn’t. It just keeps swelling, and if it reaches capacity, instead of ‘purging’ some -or all- of itself, it just adds more space to fill up (i.e. the companies that own the servers simply buy more). The internet, construed as some kind of entity (which, for the record, it isn’t), is an obsessive hoarder; a seriously demented creature that can’t comprehend getting rid of anything. All status updates, tweets, mind-numbingly stupid blog posts (……) are all seen as representative of human development (or is a chance to milk some money from someone at some point), so it’s all kept. Gmail proudly boasts that you need never delete another email again because, well, it has more space than anyone would ever need so why wouldn’t you? Am I alone in thinking this sort of mind-frame is lazy at best, demented at worst? Most emails that reach most inboxes are spam, or contain as much meaningful information as the average spam email (I haven’t, technically, bothered to look into this, but I can’t imagine I’m far wrong); I really wouldn’t be surprised if 75%+ of Google’s Gmail servers were emails that no-one is ever going to read or find useful at any future point in their lives (I imagine for businesses they need to keep hold of a lot of details simply for record keeping and so on, however I’m concerned with Joe Public).

Hoarding is a dysfunctional behaviour; if your brain stored every single sensory experience, you’d quickly become overwhelmed and go insane. In reality, our brain filters out a hell of a lot of information, discarding a lot of what isn’t helpful; this is a good thing (FYI, my take on concepts is that, by their very nature, they aid in this process).

As the internet increasingly feels like you have to wade through a hell of a lot of shit in order to get to something remotely worth anyone’s time, I say that we need a good spring clean. Youtube, for one, could probably use  99.9% of its videos being taken off the internet, if for no other reason than just to save everyone the hassle of having to fight through it all just to find a video that is at least moderately entertaining. How many hundreds of videos are there of people singing along, or lip-syncing, to some popular song? More importantly, who the hell actually watches these videos? Who in their right mind might think someone (who isn’t bat-shit crazy) would want to watch them lip-sync to a Britney Spears tune (I confess that I have absolutely no clue what songs or artists are popular these days, and this has been the case since at least 2001)? What’s the best that could possible come out of that for either party? Is there an organisation desperately in need of people to lip-sync to various songs or speeches (to be fairy, if the not-too-distant memory of the 2008 Olympic Games were anything to go by, China might) that hires scouts to scour Youtube for?  Does that account for the ludicrous amount of views those videos get?

A lot of Twitter and Facebook (etc.) needs culling too. At the time of writing, the following was a trending tweet:

#WhenIWakeUp I either stay in my bed or check my phone or Twitter. RT if you do the same :)”

(It has been retweeted over 100 times -I assume that figure has risen too)

That tweet has been saved in the Library of Congress (in case you weren’t aware, all tweets are now being permanently stored there). Alongside classics of literature. Amongst some of the very finest uses of the English language by some of the greatest minds that have lived on our planet we are now storing such gems of auto-biographical snippets.

Maybe every single website, video or picture should have a thumbs up/thumbs down (or tick/cross, etc.) next to it, and if something receives too many negative votes, it gets taken off the web permanently. We’d have to set up a worldwide committee to enforce it, but think of the benefits. Sure there’s room for abuse of the system, but I’m starting to think it would be massively outweighed by the possibility of never having to acknowledge the existence of a Rebecca Black video.

Any takers?

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Big Brother is, it seems, really quite interested in what web comics you spend your spare time reading. At least, that is what many internet users seem utterly convinced of. Given New Labour’s fascination with CCTV and other forms of monitoring (like the now-scrapped ID card scheme), or United States citizens’ general obsession with shadowy black-suited agents watching your every move for signs of terrorism, it hardly seems surprising that many fear for their privacy.

Indeed, our former government did have this alarming ability to lose, leak or sell off to private companies, all the private data they systematically went around collecting from all of its citizens. For security purposes, of course. It is difficult to trust a government is acting with your security in mind with the amount of security failings it managed to rack up in the 13 years Labour were in power, but perhaps that is just me.

Labour’s rubbish track record on data keeping aside, what I find curious are many people’s absolute fear of anyone knowing anything about anyone else. Take, for a rather obscure example, the Independent’s extension for Google’s Chrome browser. Owing to a fault with Google’s programming (and not the fault of the extension developers), the add-on had to have permission to access your browsing history in order for the program to work, despite it having no relevance to the extension itself. To many people, this was totally unacceptable and a sufficient reason for not installing, or uninstalling upon realising the apparent privacy breach, the said extension. To me, this puts the people seriously concerned by this into two possible categories; those who have browsing history that includes porn sites or sites conducive to illegal activities (notably piracy), or that they are so self-important as to think that The Independent really gives two shits about whether you visit Hotmail or Gmail to check your emails.

Obviously, not many people want to live in a society where every company or government knows all their personal habits, probably because they would find it somewhat creepy. Perhaps they would be worried that the state would use it for nefarious purposes. Such concerns are, to a certain extent, warranted and I agree that there is a line to be drawn on how much governments should know about its citizens, or how much personal data corporations are allowed to mine in the name of ‘market research’. This kind of principled disagreement to intrusions of privacy is hard to take seriously, however, when the same people are avid members of Facebook, or Twitter.

Facebook users and ‘Tweeters’ go out of their way to make as much of their lives, musings, likes, dislikes, favourite quotes and personal scores on trivial quizzes, as public and accessible as humanely possible. With many users accepting friend requests from someone who just so happened to share oxygen in the same room as them for about five minutes, it is not difficult to gain almost unlimited access into many people’s private lives. It is even common parlance to say that one is ‘facebook stalking’. Facebook has a notoriously bad privacy policy, even going so far as to refusing to let you delete your account with them once you’ve made one, and that is only going to worsen when they achieve their aim (or get feasibly close to) having their ‘Like’ button on every page on the web. Facebook sell data to companies. That’s how they make their revenue; targeted advertising. Facebook can be more specific in their demographics than any other company. If people are so worried about their privacy being abused, why are these same people giving it away by the bucket-load on social networking sites? Twitter is a running commentary for many people’s lives; given a week of following some users it would be ridiculously easy to make a highly detailed profile of those users.

So we have a contradiction. People do not want companies handling their private lives but simultaneously give them more personal data than most market researchers would even conceive of asking for. It strikes me as running parallel to people’s views about freedom of speech; you can say what you like so long as the majority find it tenable. Similarly, companies and governments can help themselves to as much data as they like so long as they tell your friends that information to. And maybe let them ‘like’ or comment on it.

For more information /commentary on Facebook’s lack of privacy:

Evolution of Privacy on Facebook

Graphic illustrating the ‘bewildering tangle of [privacy] options’

Guardian article on Facebook’s lack of privacy

Another Guardian article against Facebook’s ethics

Article on how to improve your privacy if you insist on still using Facebook

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