Nowadays anyone processing your personal data is obliged to uphold your rights. Yet who is actually responsible for protecting your privacy in the first place? That’ll be you.
A few blog posts ago I let you see how easy it is to be overheard in a public place. For those arrogant or ignorant enough to be careless with their own personal data, it is possible to land yourself in an awful lot of trouble.
Mobile telephony and the pervasiveness of the internet has brought new challenges. Behaviours which used to make conversations “private” have all but disappeared. Let me explain.
I am part of a generation which was brought up with telephones connected directly to a wall by a big, thick cable.
Thinking back, the telephone in my grandparents house, and indeed in my parents house when I was growing up, was located on a piece of furniture called a “telephone table”, located in the hallway. Not in any of the other rooms in the house. Which means that when the phone rang, any resulting conversation was held in that hallway, not in the rooms where other people were. Doors could be shut. Conversations were held in a place where other people couldn’t hear.
As times moved on, extensions were placed in my parents bedroom or in the kitchen. More ways to hold a conversation, but still restricted to specific places. Unless someone was deliberately eavesdropping, you could be reasonably sure your conversation was private.
It was like that in those days, you held your telephone conversation in a reasonably private place. Think about phone boxes or telephone booths you used to see at airports and railway stations. They’re things of the past now, but they all made some attempt to keep your telephone call private.
It helped us to be discreet.
With the mobile phone and the internet, we are now almost permanently connected. We can start a conversation from almost anywhere. On trains, on board buses, in the underground, in a coffee shop, on the street.
We can talk on our smartphones, we can tap things out on our screens. However the level of discretion is not the same. Some people seem to be unaware of the fact that other people can hear what you say and read what is on your smartphone screen. They’re not deliberately eavesdropping. They’re not snooping on what you’re doing. Yet if you aren’t careful, you can easily spill your personal data in a public place. We regularly hear other people’s conversations by accident. New school conversations are no longer private but many people behave as though they are.
So that when someone is eavesdropping with an intent to cause you harm or embarrassment, you can make it really easy for them.
Technology and social media has made it easy for us all to become broadcasters. Most of these broadcasts aren’t listened to. Ask any marketer about the difficulty of attracting people’s attention in today’s “noisy” environment. People have learned to filter out everything from TV adverts to social media posts. However in enabling us all to become broadcasters, technology has also given us the means to become careless with our own personal data. Technology can also make it devastatingly easy for other people to piece together information about you, based on the nuggets you reveal in an overheard telephone call.
If you want to see for yourself how easy it is to pick up information about other people, try the test referred to in this article in the New York Times.
You’ll find it interesting.
I tried it. The combination of indiscretion, Google and a smartphone is astonishing. You can sit there in a coffee shop and discover all sorts of things about the people around you.
Is someone else doing the same thing to you?