Are you keeping an eye on your privacy? GL Business Network takes a closer look at our online presence
With the warmth of summer still in the air, Gregg Latchams held their second Business Network on 1st September. In a dark, cool cinema space in the Watershed, the networkers were treated to an insight into the hidden side of the Digital Media & Technology sector.
After a bright and breezy networking lunch, 60 delegates were lead to the cinema to hear about ‘The Internet of Us: What does privacy mean in digital age?’. This was an afternoon of discussion and talks from a range of experts in the sector.
C4’s Geoff White
Geoff White, an award-winning investigative journalist who works with Channel 4, was the key note speaker. His enigmatic talk ‘The secret life of your mobile phone’ stripped away all misconceptions of what our mobile phones do when we’re not around. He started off by addressing the core theme of the event by exploring the definition of privacy. As a slippery concept, Geoff said the more you try to understand privacy, the more it shifts.
Far from being an abstract lecture, Geoff’s talk was full of practical, real-world examples of instances where our private lives might be more public than we think. Rather than being asked to turn our phones off, Geoff asked us to get them out and turn on our Wi-Fi. With a room full of shining lights (and only the odd flip-phone dinosaur in sight), delegates were shown the real-time data our phones were silently beaming out. Every Wi-Fi network we’d collectively connected to in the past was listed on the screen, from McDonald’s to home routers.
While this hack felt unthreatening, Geoff was sure to give us an insight into what might happen if this information went into the wrong hands. We were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the dark web, seeing everything from drugs to hacking software. But far from just being a murky world of criminals, there are two other types that hang out there too – law enforcement and journalists. Geoff explained that this creates a very strange microcosm of privacy needs and wants. While you need to trust someone that the information they’re giving you is the real deal, when someone achieves a great reputation for hacking/money laundering/drug selling, this makes them an easy target for law enforcement. Users are constantly teetering on this line between anonymity and reputation, and it’s one that can be reflected into every day society.
Changes to the digital sphere
Following Geoff’s talk, we met the panel, where Gregg Latchams’ own Ed Boal gave us the lowdown on how the digital sphere has changed in the last 20 years. He demonstrated the unequalled boom of the digital age, which spans from less than 1% of the world being online in 1995, to over 1 billion Facebook users in 2015. It set us up nicely for thinking about the next 20 years, and the experts gave their unique insights into what privacy means and how we translate that into expectations of privacy online.
Privacy in the digital age
Joining Geoff and Ed was UWE Bristol’s Associate Professor, Dr Glenn Parry, and world-renowned expert in Internet Law, Governance and Technology, Emily Taylor. From anonymity to Mark Zuckerberg, the panel delved into what privacy means in a digital age.
Some key talking points included:
- There is a difference between privacy in real life and online – but the difference is that nothing ever goes away online – whereas humans have selective memory.
- Anonymity is not always tantamount to privacy, because data can be de-anonymised really easily.
- We equate privacy with our names, but machines don’t care about names. Actually, our cookies and mac addresses are unique identifiers, which is much more specific than someone knowing your name.
- Glenn Parry argued that we don’t need to identify when our privacy is being violated, but actually we need to identify our vulnerability.
- Survey data found that people are concerned about privacy, however, there is a gap between what people are saying and doing – but when people have a choice, they might exercise their right
- When asked whether we should we bother trying to take control of our privacy again, Emily Taylor suggested that we should keep shouting about privacy infringement, as it’s our right to complain about it. We get to choose which of our friends see our stuff, but not which companies get our data, and that’s not the right way round.
- Glenn’s project, The Hub of All Things, is a prototype of the digital market place, where a person can measure their own data and decide themselves to sell it on. This could be the future of how we use such a valuable asset.
Ed finished the session by asking each member of the panel what they think the public’s attitude to privacy will look like in the next 20 years. Geoff’s answer was hopeful and ended the session in a positive light – he said he hoped we will see an honest exchange between people and companies in the future. He hoped that the customisation and personal service we currently get from online services will extend to their use of our data – and we’ll see the end of having to blindly accept terms and conditions – a welcome thought!
Check out our events page for more GL Business Network events.