The discussion surrounding Britain’s apparent sleepwalk into becoming a surveillance society continues to gather momentum, as highlighted already by fellow JK blogger Ryan Whelan. But as the situation gets progressively worse, and people’s lives are intruded on more and more, many people still fail to realise how our activities are not only being tracked by the state, but also by a large number of commercial companies, all quietly gathering huge amounts of personal information on us for marketing purposes.
Google’s recent announcement that it will ‘anonymise’ personal data it receives from users' web searches merely acted as a sharp reminder that a lot of what we do online is being tracked. Google had previously held information about searches for an indefinite period, but will now anonymise its server logs after 18 to 24 months.
Like most people, I fail to really think about these things, and so news such as this just reminds me of how little of our lives is not being scrutinised. For example, companies using tools such as loyalty cards compile information on what we buy, where and how we pay for it. Combining this with our purchase history and with the personal information we supply them when we get the card allows them to build up a profile of us and our household. The worse thing is that we’re often willingly complicit in this process.
What scares me is that despite increasingly living in a surveillance society, current data protection laws aren't up to the job, and so companies can sell this analysis on, with us having little control over our own personal details.
Recent marketing methods have even gone as far as the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to trace consumers’ mobile phones and then sending them personalised offers or information about shops or locations they are near. Ideas shown in the futuristic film Minority Report, where people are individually marketed to by companies according to the company’s profile on them, are quickly becoming a reality. But just how far will it go?
And more to the point, how far do we want it to go?