Would you trust the members of the "Reform Government Surveillance Group" more or less than the NSA/GCHQ

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Over Christmas I was struck by how interested my younger relatives were (or rather were not) in whether the NSA or GCHQ might be monitoring their smartphones. They were far more interested in how to gauge whether an app was trustworthy or not: the main concern appeared to be whether it would lead to hidden charges or gobble up their free download allowance without telling them. That linked to discussion on how to control whether the phone was running over wifi or the mobile network, particularly when it was being used to watch TV. If "it" decided the wifi was too weak or slow, then their precious free download allowance could vanish without them knowing.

This led me to do a quick sizing exercise on the volume of bloatware (e.g. the videos ads and tracking software that degrades response when you visit many media sites) downloaded to my machine in the course of December, as opposed that which I had consciously downloaded (e.g. government reports and conference presentations). At that point the gulf between the sizing data from the Broadband Stakeholder Group, Analysis Mason and others, (used to "inform" broadband debate), and the data volumes consumed by the average consumer, let alone teenager, became apparent.  The teenagers even speculated whether the slow roll-out of BT Infinity (their defnition of "slow" not mine) was a plot to get them to buy 4G to get round the problems of "crapband" (a term that apparently originated among university students living off campus). I may also have to eat my adverse comments on BT's invasion of the sports market. There was a gap in discussion when they trooped upstairs to watch Tottenham beat Manchester United on my desk top (running at 74 mbps).

The gulf between what is happening in the market place and the assumptions on which public policy is based appears to be widening rapidly. The lobbying of the Dinosaurs of the "Global Social Media" age (e.g. members of the "Reform Government Surveillance Group") and the obsessions of the technology obsessives (e.g. the Big, Open and Cloud lobbies) is getting in the way of evidence based policy. We need to look at what is actually happening in the market place as the world goes mobile, but much of that (how much?) actually over wifi.

We also need user groups who will lobby for their Smart Phone Operators, as well as Internet service and content providers to adopt similar principles to those which they wish governments to adopt.

These might include:

1) Tell customers what data they collect, how is it used, to whom is it provided (under what circumstances) and what choice, if any, they have in the matter.

2) Tell customers to whom they should complain and what action they are likely to take, in the event that their data is abused.

3) Give customers clear information on the privacy settings available to help them control who has access to what data on them and provide advance notice of any changes to these, especially those which include any automated changes.

4) Provide clear information on what is "free" (i.e. paid for by advertisers or sales of their data), what is included in any subscription and what may incurr additional charges - and require those whose adverts they carry to do likewise, including which jurisdictions under which they are doing business [as per the e-Commerce Directive].              

5) I look forward to readers comments as to what the fifth principle should be - if there is one: bearing in mind that that the "Reform Government Surveillance" group is US-Centric (AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIN, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo) and the teenagers of today are increasingly familiar with their Chinese and Russian Competitors, some to avoid the attentions of the Californian copyright enforcement agencies but others because they are simpler and faster to use (less bloatware). We also need to bear in mind that the US is slower in going mobile because their charges are three times (yes three times) those in the UK.


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This is a chalk and cheese question since the individual has choice with the listed providers, but none when it comes to government services. It should suffice to have a privacy impact assessment showing how the principles are applied, and a link to it for those who are interested.

1) - Attention span of customers and would-be customers is short, and the data collected can reasonably change over time. Not sure it's just customers. Interested parties include the rightful owner of the name and the previous user of a telephone number.

2) - Should already be in the small print of the terms and conditions signed on getting the service. And which service/product - the device, phone, internet, identity provider, search engine, cloud mail....?

3) - Maybe just ensure that updates don't erase existing choices.

4) - and where it is taxed. No representation without taxation?

5) - Sort out what controls are to be set by someone else, and how this is done - parent, guardian, school, power of attorney, prison authorities, executor, probation officer....

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Philip Virgo published on January 2, 2014 9:02 AM.

Is Mike Bracken's CBE a mark of support or a consolation prize? Has he the support to reconcile "Digital by default" with "No citizen left behind"? was the previous entry in this blog.

Will the impending US Mobile price war expedite the switch from fixed to mobile? is the next entry in this blog.

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