Monday, June 24, 2013

Big data, big brother and big issues

So everyone is now openly discussing what we already all knew, but chose to ignore: Governments utilize your personal online data for ‘security purposes’.

Getting past the outrage of the last few weeks, and looking at this matter with sobriety, one must ask a question. What did you expect?

Did you think all the convenience of being connected 24/7; reaching out to business colleagues and personal friends at any time; sharing your thoughts and ‘personal content’ was not going to have any side effects?

Despite what may be said about the importance of ‘privacy’ in the digital age, the reality is that Google reads your Gmail and web searches to serve you suitable advertising, Facebook stores personal information and interests to do the same, Twitter is still figuring out how to do it and What’s App stores your messages for reasons that will be revealed soon! It’s the price you pay for free services and an ‘always on lifestyle’, and governments can tap into all this information.

The intelligence community and Silicon Valley's top technology firms are basically in the same business of collecting information on people. Google wasn’t planning to build a surveillance system, but that’s what it has become.

As big online players claim their innocence, and that they can’t do anything about this, it appears there could even be an unholy alliance. Skype, for example, is said to have a secret programme to make it easier for US surveillance agencies to access customers' information. The National Security Agency (NSA) in the US is offering technology transfer to private companies like Google to assist in obtaining “cutting-edge machine learning technologies” - why would they do that? Well, because Google has received a court order to comply with demands of government agencies for customer data.

This ongoing discussion in the US and Europe may seem to exclude our region, but the reality is that governments all over the world are connected and will ‘tap into’ online content for surveillance.
And it’s not just governments that you should be worried about. Think of your employer, partner or business acquaintance who will check out your Facebook profile before or after you meet, and imagine how much he/she will know about you from one page!

There’s enough information on social networks for anyone to harass you, and if you’ve taken some ‘liberties’ there could also be enough information to blackmail you.

It goes even deeper. Your comments on a news item reveal your political and social ‘leanings’ which may or may not be acceptable to various people you are working with. You could stereo-type yourself with one, anger-fueled comment or tweet. Also, as part of the bigger picture, comments on news sites are considered to be a key indicator of the national mood in any country and are therefore monitored.

Clearly, online snooping is the new reality. Even worse, it’s a historic record!

Try thinking of that next time you’re about to post a comment, tweet, change your Facebook status or connect with a someone you’re not supposed to on LinkedIn.

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