From puberty to senility we are urged to put intimate details on-line via services like Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, Linked-In and Friends Re-United to be trawled by friends, predators, on-line marketeers, anti-piracy lawyers and information aggregators.
Almost every site we visit wants our personal details and to put spyware on our systems. From Google to Garlik there are whole industries whose business models depend on tracking what is known about us and our behaviour on-line (sometimes even including the content of the e-mails we send using their services) and collating and analysing the results to target the sales efforts of their paying customers.
In parallel we regularly read shock-horror stories over the loss or theft of the contents of centralised databases and are told to keep our own data safe with shredders and anti-malware tools.
Current debate over the balance between sharing information in your interest and keeping it secure is surreal. I was tempted to use the headline “Malice in Blunderland” for this blog but there is little actual malice – merely a great deal of blinkered thinking and a common reluctance to allow customers, residents, taxpayers or voters to choose the level of security or privacy THEY want.
And who “owns” your data? The Secretary of State?, Your doctor? Your ISP? The credit reference agency? A Trusted Third Party? Or You?
And who can you sue when they spread lies about you (alias incorrect information on their database) or pass it to a crook or stalker?
How do we ensure the application of good systems thinking to produce systems that are fit for purpose: reconciling convenience with a level of security and privacy that is adequate for the application?
And who decides what is “good systems thinking”, “fit for purpose” or “adequate”?
And who believes them?
I have a variety of “invitation-only” meetings in my diary over the next couple of months on this subject: from a British Computer Society “Thought Leadership” debate, through a briefing for MPs being organised by the Oxford Internet Institute and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, to a Real Time Club dinner. I would classify these as being: from polite debate among the usual suspects, through an opportunity for MPs to grill the social networking enthusiasts to a no-holds-barred assault on current muddled thinking.
But debate is not enough.
Later this month the EURIM Personal Identity and Data Sharing Group has a meeting to plan a political exercise which I hope will succeed in bringing relevant players (which organisations? which professions?) together to establish adequate standards and agree to expel, ostracise and/or publicly condemn those who ignore them – however eminent or well-heeled. I look forward to meeting those of you who decide to join and take part.
But what are your other opportunities to make your views known?
First – there is the Information Commissioners consultation to which I referred in my blog Stop Whinging and help the Data Sharing Review.
Second – take a look at the “Short Guide to Political Players on the Information Society Scene” and pick your route.
Third – be active via the political party of your choice.
This is not a problem that can be left to others. It is your personal, professional and economic future that is at stake if you leave this to the cover-up merchants and snake-oil salesmen, peddling their partial and one-sided “solutions”.