It’s all go in data privacy land this week. Here are just three of the stories currently making waves in our digital world.
Trump trashes data privacy for US citizens
You thought our own ‘Snooper’s Charter’ was bad. Now there’s more. Donald Trump is at the centre of yet another scandal, this time concerning data privacy. He has just signed a resolution repealing America’s broadband privacy rules before they had time to come into effect.
If they’d been made law, the privacy rules would have forced Internet Service Providers and mobile networks to get users’ explicit, opted-in permission before sharing or selling personal data to advertisers and other interested parties.
The Senate and House also voted to eliminate the rules, despite the full approval of the Federal Communications Commission. It’s yet another sorry tale in the Trump saga, one more crude dismantling of ex-President Obama’s good work. Worse still, Trump’s action prevents the FCC from creating similar rules in the future.
Trump’s latest move means US consumers have no choice about whether advertisers and others use, share or sell their browsing history, app use history and a host more private information. While the rules always excluded Google and Facebook, they were widely regarded as a crucial step in giving consumers better control of their online data. Now the American public has no protection. Advertisers, the government and anyone else who fancies it can harvest consumer data to their heart’s content, and use it in any way they want.
Google’s hugely annoying data privacy initiative
I’ve been banging on for years about Google’s heavy handed attitude to data privacy. In recent months it appears they’ve started taking user criticism seriously, and have finally taken action. Sadly it’s so heavy handed it defeats the object.
If, like me, you’ve been prevented from using the search engine thanks to a bossy pop up that insists you stop what you’re doing to deal with a complex collection of data privacy choices, you’ll be just as cross as I am. If it keeps on happening to you, you’ll be even more frustrated. I get the pop up regularly because I refuse to stay signed into my Google account, which is the only way the search engine can ‘remember’ my privacy preferences.
In an ideal world, as I’ve said before, every user would be able to tick a single opt-in box to give Google permission to use behavioural and other data. Not ticking the box would mean Google could not legally collect or use your data. Your choices would be simple, clear and – ideally – permanent, unless you physically went into your account and changed things. What’s so difficult about that, I wonder?
As proof of the pudding, I’ve just had the same old message pop up yet again. If I was paranoid I’d be convinced they were doing it to wind me up. As the message says:
Tim Berners-Lee defends data encryption
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, my hero and the creator of the internet, is urging the UK government to lay off encryption. At the same time Amber Rudd wants to crack down on internet firms she thinks are providing criminals with a place to hide, demonstrating her chronic ignorance of the technology and its many benefits.
End-to-end encryption lets you transmit information that can only be read by the recipient. It can’t be intercepted because it’s scrambled into a long series of digits that can’t be decoded without the sender’s key. Because the key disappears once the message is unscrambled the message can’t be unlocked afterwards, either.
The system is vital for our own individual safety and security, but governments and their spooks hate it because they can’t get at the information we send one another.
Rudd says the British Government will be forcing technology companies to break encryption in cases where it was “providing a secret place for terrorists”. Sir Tim said doing so would threaten people’s human rights and could easily land encryption-cracking tools in the wrong hands. More importantly, he made it clear that the ability to enjoy private communications is fundamental to human rights, vital for business and an important element of everyday life.
It’s a constant battle. Unless we, the users of the web, stand up for our own basic rights, those rights will be taken away from us. It’s happening, it’s real, and billions of us are sleepwalking into a dystopian world where the people in power can harvest and use our information at will, without so much as a thank you and without paying us a penny.
Is that what you want? If not, it’s time to make your feelings clear.