The “P” word


I thought I would start the new year by looking back at the last and opining on some of the major events within the geoworld. No doubt there were several important industry changing events in 2013 but for me 2013 was defined by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the incredible levels of unsupervised surveillance of personal communications by the NSA and GCHQ. If you aren’t up to speed with this saga then I recommend the excellent coverage from the Guardian.

The revelation that the NSA is collecting 5bn mobile phone location records per day was perhaps the most stunning!

Do you have to forgo privacy to use a smartphone? Thx to Rob Jewitt https://www.flickr.com/photos/robjewitt/

For 5 or 6 years we have been watching or participating in the explosion of the use of location in mobile apps, it seems that almost every device and service knows or wants to know where we are. Back in 2008 I wrote about an RSA event Privacy in an Open World and said

“it is inevitable that my personal data will be held by numerous organisations, what we should be focussing on is what they do with that information, whether they pass it to others in any form and of course that they keep it secure.”

I certainly wasn’t thinking of GCHQ hacking into the main trans-atlantic internet cables and sucking up all of my internet and call history or the NSA storing all of the location metadata attached to that activity! The following year I was a speaker at an event on mobile location and the topic of location privacy was pretty high on the agenda, afterwards I wrote this piece

“Privacy prompted a lot of discussion and some passion including the view that the age of privacy was just about over. I think that there is a cumulative effect each time we disclose another detail about ourselves, add a location history or trail to our posts in Facebook, Twitter etc, leave all sorts of browsing information with Google and others and potentially have some of this forwarded onto others without our knowledge. Not many people realise the extent to which these fragments of information can be mashed together to create a detailed picture about us.”
I didn’t think that “potentially having some of this forwarded onto others without our knowledge” would mean giving it all to the spooks. To be fair to the security services they are only tracking the location of “at least hundreds of millions of devices” so they probably weren’t tracking me (until I wrote this post).
I made a prediction in 2009
Within 2 years there will be a celebrity divorce because someone has been “playing away from home” and has neglected to switch off the location features in their ultra hip phone
I was wrong, it took more than 2 years but when it happened it was a lot more than a celebrity divorce. Back then I was a dinosaur in a world of ultra open people telling me that “Privacy is dead, get over it”. I think 2014 will be the year when location privacy becomes a very hot topic and checkins, tagged photos and tweets may be impacted.