20 February 2010

I know where you live…

So the debate continues, privacy on the Internet. Relaxing at home this weekend I have some extra time to do a bit of reading, browsing and some research about the Internet. Spying wouldn’t be incorrect, however research makes it all sound nice and polite. As any regular blogger would know register yourself with a service offering you blog stats and you can find all kinds of details, most importantly the IP address of people who read your blog. Add to it the techniques of someone like my nephew who graduated from GWU with a master in computer engineering, a simple IP address then opens the doors to a different ball game. Even with my limited knowledge I can now find the building and street your PC is located. Enlist the help of a techy and it can border on every breath you take…

I can tabulate the time you spend reading my blog, identify trends in any special days or times you visit, and what type of post subject attracts you or you spend most time reading. If you stumble upon it by googling it, then I am able to identify if you specifically googled the name of my blog or if it was just a key word you used in your search. All this of course can be pretty much harmless or be more than a bit messy if the person who finds out above you lives in the African continent.

I have got hooked to online banking strictly for its convenience. From where ever I am in the world I am able to make payments, transfer money, apply for a credit card, an overdraft, a loan, get a mortgage etc, etc. This offers me freedom, however it also offers a good hacker access to my humble financial dealings. The banks goal in reducing the number of tellers and branches gets closer with more people like me opting in. I hardly carry any paper money around with me anymore. 

We have a Tesco club card and do most of our grocery shopping online or in store with the club card as it enables us to accumulate points. Somewhere down the line my spouse or I have approved for Tesco to tabulate our shopping habits. When we now go online to do our shopping, we are offered a list of the regulars we buy all the time from Tesco, either on or off line. This ranges from OTC medicines, prescription drugs to what type of dog food brand we prefer for our dog. This is quite cool, convenient, but there is a ‘but’. Suddenly I am not sure if I am completely comfortable with my grocer knowing my personal lifestyle.

I am glad that the UKGov chipped identity card scheme was not accepted by the general public. But I also know that my TFL Oyster card will be able to track me anytime I use the tube. My mobile operator at any given time will be able to say where I am anywhere I choose to go in this world. If there is even no mobile coverage, some operators still can find you if you use a Blackberry or iphone.

The real problem is however the Internet. Most websites can already track you using their computer history. Your ISP basically knows about everything you do online. With me, it’s slowly becoming everything. My shopping for anything, my banking, my work, well basically anything and everything. The more time I spend logged in to either my phone which is 24/7, to my laptop, work computers and home computer, they would be able to tabulate what time of the day I take my breaks, average time I take for lunch and an average of what time I sleep. Having a sky digital box means that every programme, movies I watch, sitcoms I enjoy all our recorded in some mainframe or a cloud somewhere in the world. What I access, anyone can.

So most of you will say, yo DD, what’s this got to do with the price of eggs?

Well for one, some anonymous blogger where ever they maybe in the world, may blog happily thinking their anonymity is protected. But if someone like me with limited knowledge can find you, anyone may. For instance your blog will be flagged every time you use the word ‘freedom’ by many western government spy agencies.

Yahoo and Google already offer targeted advertising online. Yahoo has gone a step further where with your consent they can now identify both your online and offline consumer behaviour. Knowing where you live and knowing where you shop – will it become a civil liberties nightmare?

In the west you are protected to a certain extent through government and non-government regulatory bodies that protect your privacy. If you opt into one of these consumer behaviour tracking programmes or digital advertising campaigns, you are always given the chance to opt out of it. If you choose to have your online DNA deleted and go back to the good old days of pen and paper, yes you can, even if it means pursuing it legally. 

But the danger remains where for key issues such as privacy and transparency, especially when users are unaware that personal information is being collected. Consumer data can be created to identify individual profiles or segments.  Prices can be skewed for different users, based on their Internet usage.

People in the west best believe in the Office of Fair Trading to protect their rights. Rightly or wrongly. Being an ad person coming to live in the west five years ago, I embraced the whole e-commerce, digital concept of convenience. The more I live here, the less I believe that I am doing the right thing. But as I work to live in my profession, I am but silent. Well yes I have written this post.

The danger of misuse, fraud however looms forever, especially in countries less regulated or adopt socialist and communist agendas, and dictatorships. As the popularity of the Internet ever increases in these parts of the world, so does the chance of widespread abuse. We must not forget or believe that this will not affect those of us who live in democracies, remember the Internet interconnects the world.

So if you have blog, visit a blog for a read or is thinking of starting a blog, remember I know where you live. And lots of not very nice people, companies, governments and countries do too. So who owns your ISP? Are search engines governed by ethics or commerce?

Sometimes the most obvious is the least. Or is that vice a versa?

(Pix - Chuks - Ski Trip - Austria)


Anonymous said...

This is a little paranoid. Unless you live in a place like China or Sri Lanka and write anti-government articles, news and so on, nobody really cares what you do and do not do.

fiv said...

Can you do me a favor? Try and tell me where I live as I am following a certain methodology to prevent this type of thing and would like to know if it still is possible.

ViceUnVersa said...

The plot and headline to the story 'I know where you live' was to highlight the importance of civil liberties. All I emphasized was that it could be abused easily by marketers, advertising agencies, governments, potential employers...
Ex: Once you know someone's IP and the ISP all you will need is a small 'santhosam' between LKR 500 to 1000 to get the rest of their details.
But the more serious aspect is that in the modern world you cant help but leave an online footprint that is easily traceable to SOMEONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN WHAT YOU DO FOR COMMERCIAL OR FRAUDULENT GAIN.
I live in the west and would never abuse anyone's civil liberties and invade their online footprint.
Rest assured you do leave a traceable one.

Recent examples are of a guy going through a divorce and fighting for the custody of his children. He had gone before a judge and said he was now a reformed alcoholic. They found pix of him on FB with two beers and a joint in his mouth.

Two men fought argued with each other on the net through their blogs in Ireland. It got heated and one guy found the other guy through his online footprint, went to his home and shot him!

On a commercial sense the recent tie with Yahoo and a research agency to track your off and online shopping habits is of concern. They already have 20,000 people who tied up. This enables extremely targeted and effective advertising for marketers. As an individual I worry about what information is collected of me online, WHICH CAN BE WITH OR WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE.