Data subject

29Sep10

Do you ever have time to read the small print? My new mobile phone contract says:

You authorise us to use and DISCLOSE, in the UK AND ABROAD, information about you, your use of the Service including, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, phone numbers and/or email addresses of calls, texts and other communications made and received by you and the date, duration, time and cost of such Communications, how you conduct your account and the location of your Mobile Phone for the purposes of operating your account… fraud and crime detection… prevention of civil offences… for reasons of national security…etc etc … to our associated companies, partners or agents, any telecommunications company, debt collection agency… fraud prevention agency or governmental agency and OTHER USERS OF THESE AGENCIES…

In other words, my mobile phone company can share any information, including the recorded content of my calls with almost any other company or agency they choose.

In the recent hysterical outrage about the lady who put a cat in a wheelie bin, no one seemed concerned about the fact that an individual can make continuous CCTV recordings of all passers-by on a public footpath and then broadcast the video freely. Individuals, unlike companies and agencies, are not bound by the UK data protection act in this situation.

As I’m typing this, my internet service provider (ISP) is keeping a record of all the websites I visit. As well as recording which pages I view, the ISP can also keep a record of how long I view each page and whether I download anything. Like my mobile phone company the ISP has received my consent to share the information with pretty much anybody. At least I think this is the case, because I didn’t really read the Ts&Cs, I was too busy at the time.

I don’t mind much of this. I’m a bit baffled why an individual might want to record my progress in the street (I ignore cats). I’m happy to trade my privacy for the convenience of a mobile phone and internet access – although having seen the reference to “civil offences” in the phone contract I might stop texting if I’m waiting for Mrs R or the children in a pay and display car park without a ticket (what is a “civil offence” anyway – there doesn’t seem to be a real definition of this?… I shall ask my phone company).

Mostly I don’t mind because the technology to make meaningful use of the mountains of data we generate is lagging behind the technology to capture the voices, images, clicks and downloads. The innocent sounding Business Intelligence industry is working hard to help companies and agencies extract value from their data mines, but it’s still very difficult pull together all the strands to capture a meaningful picture of the lives of every individual.

Give it a couple of years. Business Intelligence will evolve into Consumer Intelligence, Social Intelligence and Civil Intelligence. The spending, socialising, viewing, browsing, emailing, listening, talking, walking, driving, playing, working, dining and whining habits of everyone will form the basis of a new analysis. Companies which specialise in search, pattern recognition and data analysis will become even more valuable… a paradox if you value your Autonomy.

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2 Responses to “Data subject”

  1. 1 Ann

    Why only civil offences? If offenders were more civil the world would be a better place. Far better to pick on uncivil offenders.
    Isn’t the English language great!

  2. One of the reasons why i have avoided facebook, they reserve the right, not just to take data you provide, but to search and compile data from any other source. Which i think is just a bit too much. Plus their copyright policy stinks!
    Most of the time i’m happy to take the trade of the service that’s provide vs their accessing my data.


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