What do I even mean by “privacy”?

By | January 9, 2017
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I mentioned a bit about privacy last time, while I was talking about what’s likely to happen over the next year. And I realised I’d missed out two things:
First, I hadn’t explained exactly what I mean by privacy (and why you should care) and secondly I hadn’t talked about how it affects you now, even with current PCs, laptops, tablets or phones.

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 meant by privacy?

I’m talking about keeping your information or information about you, private to the people who you mean 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.

Some people just find it feels wrong to know that another person or organisation can read their emails, see what they’ve put on Facebook for friends to read and even track where they’ve been (don’t worry, I haven’t gone mad – there’s a good chance Google do actually know when you’re out and about – they certainly do with me).

Other people aren’t bothered that an organisation based hundreds of miles away know what you’re up to. They might even say “Unless you’re doing something wrong, why does it matter?”

Well, it depends who is looking at your data… and what they’re going to do with it. You might not be worried about the government 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, and the people who it happens to generally thought “That’ll never happen to me” as well – until it did.

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. You’ll hear people talking about how Google “sell” your details to advertisers – but not one person in a hundred who worries about it knows what actually happens.

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).

All of this is stuff that happens now, on current PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Not just something to watch for in the future.

Phew – that’s quite a long article – but I wanted to fill in the gaps in what I’d said last time.

Of course, you might be thinking “Maybe I should do something about this privacy issue after all… or at least find out a bit more about it”. Well, I’ll be writing a bit more about it over the next week or two, so “stay tuned” as they say. I’m working on a book about it (more on that shortly), so it’s at the top of my mind, so you can expect me to write about it a fair bit in my emails for the next few weeks!

Google Chrome’s new party piece
Starting this month, if you use Google’s Chrome browser you might notice it’s got a new message at the start of the web address. Most of the time it should say “Secure” before it gives the web address at the top. That tells you that the website is properly secure to put information into, so other people can’t see your information on the way from the browser to the website. (Of course it doesn’t make it impossible for crooks to steal it but it keeps it safer once it’s left your PC.)

If the website isn’t properly secure and it either asks for card details or for a password of any kind, the message will say “not secure”.

There’s two things worth knowing: one is just to know about this message. The other is that lots of websites will have been tweaked to make sure they get classed as “Secure” – I know we’ve tweaked ours. If anyone’s still using Windows XP on the internet, you may find some websites simply don’t work any more (I think some bank websites have been like this for a while). You may find you can get them to work by using Firefox as your web browser, but I still wouldn’t recommend it – there’s a reason Windows XP doesn’t work with many of these websites that have been made more secure and it’s simply that XP itself isn’t very secure nowadays.

PS Have you had a look at the online version of these emails, where other readers can comment on them?  There are often some interesting comments from other people – Eric and Fred’s comments last time got me thinking in particular. (You can get at the online version using the link “read this on the web and comment” at the top of the email.)

8 thoughts on “What do I even mean by “privacy”?

  1. Ken Baker

    Have had experience of Ads popping up on my tablet for sites I’ve I’ve been using on the Web (on the Desktop)
    Very strange too – one was a Holiday website I used, and their ads now come up on “Flashscores” which I use for Football scores! Very strange! I don’t like it. Regards Ken Baker.

    Reply
  2. Djana

    We looked online for some chicken wire and later when checking emails noticed adverts and illustrations for wire chickens!

    Reply
  3. Winifred Sherry

    Yes, we ordered a greenhouse by phone several years ago and are now bombarded by online adverts for greenhouses! Amusing at first, but eventually very irritating!

    Reply
  4. Tim Post author

    Thanks for all the comments – it’s interesting to see how people feel about all these things. I particularly chuckled over being advertised wire chickens after looking for chicken wire! (Though I can see it would get annoying after a while).
    Tim

    Reply
  5. Janet

    I shall look forward to more on this topic. Something I looked up suggested that my fridge could be transmitting!

    Reply
    1. Tim Post author

      It’s possible, but at the moment very few fridges can do this – so unless you have a very new ultra fancy one, it probably won’t be true for you.
      Give it a few years, though, and it might be far more common… for fridges, central heating systems, even coffee machines…
      Tim

      Reply

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