In the age of life-casting offered by Google Glass, you’ll need to pick your friends wisely.
As the first of Google’s goggles are dispatched, we’re starting to see serious conversations arise about the implications of always-on feeds beaming every moment onto the cloud. I’ve seen a few articles expressing alarm at the idea we’ll be under constant surveillance by the people around us, and the necessary etiquette frameworks that will need to be hashed out as this kind of device becomes more commonplace. Seattle’s 5 Point Cafe became the first to ban the goggles, although this was more a savvy PR move than response to a legitimate concern. It’s not a particularly new idea – anyone who’s visited one of London’s private member clubs will already be familiar with no-phone policies.
However, even as we struggle to get to grips with our own privacy settings on various social networks, we should spare a thought for whether our friends are following suit. It’s not unusual for journalists to befriend someone on Facebook in order to access pictures of their celebrity friend, a leapfrog manoeuvre that my own pal fell victim to (not that it was me these hacks were looking for!). Life-casting promises to dramatically ramp up the sheer volume of data collected about you – locations, movements, activities, and if we want to stretch our imaginations a little, mood, partners, weight, social status… Facebook’s facial recognition ability should already have made it clear that you don’t necessarily need to be tagged in a picture for Facebook (or anyone else) to work out that it’s you. Unfortunately, many companies still insist on using terrible verification methods (*cough* Apple *cough*) to identify yourself – a weak system that can be exploited by the easy availability of personal data. I mean, postcode? birthdate? phone number? Who on Earth thought those were secure pieces of information? So your friends’ data protection policies should be borne in mind. Are they being sensible about the way they share data that includes you? Can you invite a known loose-hand to a private event?
I thought about this today as I was setting up some encryption on my computers – a long overdue task. Because the content of my hard drive does not only concern me. To give an example, a close friend and avid urban explorers has, despite some close scrapes, managed to avoid attracting the attention of police despite finding his way into hundreds of forbidden areas, including a number of sensitive government-controlled sites. However, when another group of explorers found themselves staring down the barrels of CO19’s sub-machine guns during an ill-advised jaunt into a disused London tube station, their cameras and hard drives were confiscated and picked over by the authorities. Although my friend has been careful to avoid direct contact with police, these hard drives contain plenty of photos of him from shared trips. Now, should he ever be picked up, it would be easy for diligent police officer to connect him with a number of other trespasses. Ideally, everyone involved should have been encrypting their hard drives and taking stringent data-protection measures, but aside from being impossible to enforce, it would only take a single weak link to expose the group, making such efforts rather fragile.
So, if you’re anything less than a model citizen, the question is: are your friends taking privacy as seriously as you?