Maintaining Personal Privacy
In the electronic age maintaining privacy becomes an impossible task. Every time you make an online purchase, collect reward points, ring a call centre, or even make a mobile call, your movements are potentially watched. How do you begin to protect your essential right to privacy?
Privacy Invasion on a Huge ScaleWhen George Orwell imagined a terrifying world governed by Big Brother, he wasn’t as far off as you might think. Today’s technology allows anybody to invade your privacy, even when you least expect it.
Take reward cards. They offer great discounts and freebies once you’ve spent enough in the store; marvellous. What the retailer doesn’t tell you is that your information is plugged into an intensely sophisticated system that is shared with a number of other retailers – enabling them to target your junk mail far more precisely. Put some barbecue steaks in your shopping basket, and chances are you’ll soon receive a letter from a DIY store that’s having a gas barbecue sale. While you may trust the retailer, you’re unknowingly making your data available to a much bigger network.
Across the world employers, businesses and stores are taking advantage of the latest technology to project their products and services into your private space. Interactive shopping television essentially gives retailers a window on your living room, invading your personal space. Telephone a call centre or give out your postcode, and the person on the other end of the line can immediately pull up a huge range of information about you, from your credit rating to your house price.
In response to the recent terrorist attacks, the UK government has become determined to give authority figures immediate access to our personal identities; whether by requesting a personal ID card, pulling up our medical records on the new national database, or improving airport searches. A brand new thermal ‘virtual search’ x-ray has been introduced across the UK. Pass behind it, and the operator can strip-search you without asking or touching you. In the US, similar thermal technology is used to scan the homes of suspected cannabis dealers, picking up the hot lamps used to grow small plants.
Mobile phones are a major threat to privacy, including your own. Camera phones have been the subject of particular concern: smaller, quicker and more easily disguised than traditional cameras, they capture friends and strangers in a flash. How many pictures do you, or your family, appear in? The introduction of mobile shopping and internet browsing adds another layer to the security threat. Websites don’t just know your computer address – now they also collect your mobile phone number. Taking a sick day? Employers can trace your mobile calls if you pop to the pub. Looking for a date for the evening? A Japanese service will text you if someone fitting your date profile walks past you in the street!
What can you do?Keep your wits about you and consider carefully before accepting any terms or agreements with retailers or businesses. Do you really need an extra credit account, an email newsletter about begonias, or yet another store reward card? You may be offered a 10% discount, but the privacy implications could end up costing far more. Here are some basic rules to help you maintain personal privacy – at home, at work, and out shopping.
- Subscribe to the Telephone Preference Service, which stops companies from calling you with unsolicited sales offers.
- Buy a shredder. Shred statements, letters and bills that you’ve finished with, and destroy envelopes carrying your address.
- Do not give out any personal information over the telephone, unless you have called an official number (from a retailer’s site or your cards).
- Ask what your employer’s personal email policy is.
- If you are allowed to send personal emails, ask for a company-wide template that marks them apart from business emails.
- Request your medical records, and find out where they are stored.
- Check ATMs for attached devices that might scan your card details.
- Do not take out store cards.
- Contact retailers with whom you have store or loyalty cards, and ask them to take you off the distribution list that they sell to third parties.