Privacy – it’s a funny old thing…

By | April 3, 2023
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Privacy.  It’s a funny old thing… and it’s been in the news quite a bit lately.  To be honest, most of it has been about celebrities suing various newspapers – but privacy issues affect ordinary people like you and me too.

First, I should explain exactly what I mean by privacy (and why you should care).  It’s something that’s easy to brush to one side and ignore – but it’s actually really important and most people don’t know why.

So first of all, what do I mean by privacy?

I’m talking about keeping your information, or information about you, private to the people who you want to be able to see it. It doesn’t mean no-one but you can see it – for example if you’ve emailed your friend Bob, you want Bob to see the email!  But you might not want anyone else to read it (particularly if it says when you’re going to be away from home, leaving the house unoccupied, for example).

And although it doesn’t only apply to computers (CCTV in public places is a hot topic, for example), the issues tend to be with the internet.

Why does it matter? I’ve often heard people say things like, “Well, I’ve got nothing to hide, I don’t mind if people can tell what I’ve done”.

Fair enough – and in some cases that’s reasonable. But not all the time.

A lot of it depends on who’s looking at your data… and what they’re going to do with it. You might not be worried about the government or a big company like Google having access to your data, though it’s worth asking whether you trust everyone who works for them and has access to it… or whether you trust them to make it impossible for a crook to hack in.

But what if a crook or conman is looking at your data – maybe because your wifi is set up so it doesn’t keep things private. If you shop online they might watch for your credit card number, or a PayPal password – that’s something that everyone who shops online should be concerned about.

Even worse are the cleverer crooks – the ones who look for various bits of data about you. They’re into what’s called identity fraud. For example they might find out enough about you to write to the bank and convince them that they’re you – and that you’ve moved house. So from then on, everything the bank sends you will go to them. Including if they ask for a new chequebook or new debit card and PIN code.

It’s easy to push it to one side and think “That’d never happen” – but it does.

Of course, there are lots of other “privacy” issues that aren’t directly linked to people stealing from you. The other day I was looking at washing lines online (oh, yes, I lead a glamorous life!) and afterwards found myself getting all sorts of adverts for washing lines.  And it’s even weirder if you visit a shop (a physical one, in the real world), then get adverts for whatever shop it was on your PC or tablet.

All this can feel a bit disconcerting – but once you know how it works, it’s a good deal less creepy – and then you can decide whether you want to do anything about it or not (either way, you’ll feel more comfortable, knowing how they’re doing it).

Of course, you might be thinking “Maybe I should do something about this privacy issue… or at least find out a bit more about it”. Well, I’ll be writing a bit more about privacy over the next few weeks.  We’re busy updating a book we published back in 2017, explaining about all these issues, why they might matter to you, and what you do to keep your private information to yourself.

So “stay tuned” as they say.

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