Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Don't tell anyone, then"

Today I met with a potential client, a director of a private security company. He mentioned how he often tells people not to use computers, phones and the other paraphernalia of modern society if they have stuff they want to keep private. It's a lesson the "bad guys" seem to have learned as they abandon satellite phones that can be tracked and targeted in favour of word-of-mouth couriers and old-fashioned low tech.

Then, later, I was brought up short when I saw a post by Jodi Wilkinson about what sites see when you use your Facebook login...

  • Name

  • Hometown

  • Location

  • Email address

  • Gender

  • Work: employer name, location, position title, start date

  • Education: school, location, year, course specialisation

  • Timezone and more...

Jodi writes that this is the minimum information that Facebook provides; and most sites request more. She gives an example of how one request for her data released "2,054 lines of data containing gps coordinates of all my check-ins, photos I’ve been tagged in, and everything someone has said on my wall in the last 6 months as well as the full name and facebook ids of my friends who posted on my wall."

So, even if I never use my Facebook details to login on other sites, if I've posted on a friend's wall and they login with Facebook then some of my info will leak to those sites!

Of course, the security guy is right: if Jodi hadn't put that info in Facebook in the first place then it wouldn't be available to be released. But how many of us have been far-sighted enough to think that way?

There's a growing American outcry against the poorly-drafted CISPA legislation there; and stirrings in the UK against planned government moves to mandate more Internet monitoring. Seeing the range of information that just one site, Facebook, has on individuals makes me a bit queasy and to agree with Tim Berners-Lee, 'father' of the world wide web, that this sort of legislation turns its subjects into a nation of suspects with nowhere to keep their thoughts private once they enter the electronic realm.