Most of us who use the Internet, or have mobile telephones, accept that even with privacy protocols in place, the government or another country’s government agencies will be snooping on all our activities. It’s the sad price we pay for an all-encompassing, ever present knowledge and social base. Until this week, though, I had no idea that at least 482 private companies are doing the exact same thing. The difference is, they sell our data to other companies for profit. How can that even be legal?
According to Steven Englehardt and his colleagues at Princetown University, these companies use scripts called ‘session replay’. If you have ever paused for a moment, pondering whether it is wise to type in a search term that you think might flag some tracking software leading to a rather unpleasant visit from large scary men in raincoats wearing earbuds, think again. They already have logged every keystroke you have ever made, including passwords and deleted search terms.
I whinge and moan when I leave my laptop on standby charging up at the mains, and Microsoft swoops in, downloads and updates my software without my permission. I also note that they have disabled the setting which used to allow a manual override, preventing upgrades from disturbing a work session and allowing the owner of the device to perennially fend off unwanted ‘improvements’. Has this extension of their mighty powers allowed unfettered access to all our houses too? How many spy films have shown the capabilities of embedded software that allows devices to be remotely controlled from an external source? How often are our laptop and tablet microphones and webcams activated to monitor inside our homes and offices? If the government can do it, you can be damn sure that private companies can too.
Secure websites, not accepting cookies and reading privacy policies of the websites used, makes no difference what-so-ever. These companies have been pre-authorised by the websites you use to watch you as you browse. You may as well hand them your bank account details now. Data Protection Acts are clearly not man enough to tackle this growing issue.
It will be interesting to see what happens in May 2018, when the EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into force. Will Brexit block this curbing of “disproportionate misuse of data without user consent,” or will it embrace the British freedom of powers to further breach our personal privacy? Makes you yearn for the simpler life. I am seriously considering going off grid and learning how to whittle spoons.
Sam Nash is the author of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, The Aurora Mandate. Release date TBA. You can find her at https://www.samnash.org or on Twitter @samnashauthor or Facebook.com/samnash.author.