Privacy has become big news – particularly internet privacy.
I don’t just mean things like keeping your credit card details private when you buy something online. There are pretty secure systems to make sure only you and the shop you’re buying from can see them (as long as you’re buying from a reputable shop). In fact, often, the shop can’t even see them – they go straight to the bank who simply tell the shop “yes, it went through” without the shop ever actually seeing your details.
But I’m talking about generally people being able to tell what you’re up to.
For example there’s periodically fuss about whether the government should be able to access records kept by the internet companies, to check what people are using the internet for or even to read their emails, to help them catch criminals and terrorists. (Currently, they can only look at this sort of thing in very specific circumstances).
And there are settings in programs like Facebook to let you decide whether you want photos and snippets of info you put up to be seen generally or only by your own friends and family. For example if you said you were about to go on holiday, you might want to keep that limited to people you know so everyone doesn’t know your house will be empty.
Google Streetview has caused fuss over the years, too. If you know where to look you can see a picture of my wife walking down the street. She was only on the way to work (in fact you can tell she was short of time by the way she’s striding along!) but I’ve heard of at least one chap getting into trouble with his wife when his car was seen on streetview parked outside another woman’s house…
And some people feel uneasy just about the fact that their might be a photo of them walking down the street available on the web in google streeview. Other people take the view that it’s no different from what someone would have seen if they’d been walking down the street at the time the google car went past.
There are various rules and things Google and the other companies do that can help. For example Streetview has a system built in that automatically blanks out car numberplates, so no-one can use it as a way to find numberplates to “clone”. Similarly they blur faces in pictures of people on it.
It can make it less useful, though. I was planning a long car journey the other day and was looking on Google Streetview at what some of the junctions looked like, so I knew what to expect. It can be really helpful like that – knowing that the sharp left is just after a green building or a tall tree or whatever can make it easier.
This time I was looking at what some of the road signs said, so I knew how it’d be signed. Only Google’s program had obviously thought it might be a car numberplate and had blurred it out.
It was still helpful – and when I did get to that junction I recognised it from the pictures so I knew I was at the right one.
I’m sure there’ll still be lots of talking, concern and fuss about privacy and the way it’s handled will probably change a few times yet. But my main advice is if there’s something you want to keep private, think about how you share it on the internet. It doesn’t mean you can’t share it at all, but have a think about who might see it and how you feel about that… and take that into account when you decide how to share it.
Oh, and the journey was a brilliant example of technology being great but being let down by the person using it – I’d carefully looked at the route on the way down and had no problems at all. But stupidly, I hadn’t looked at the way back, just thinking “I’ll do the same in reverse”. And promptly missed a turning where you had to turn off the road to stay on the same road (if you understand what I mean)… and took what we’ll call the scenic route.
Oh well, next time I’ll think to check the route back as well…