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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Our attitudes to data privacy are nothing to shout about

Why have people become so indiscreet about communicating?
Data privacy: People don't seem concerned about their information and communicate openly, unthinkingly broadcasting everything without a care

People don't seem concerned about their information and communicate openly, unthinkingly broadcasting everything without a carePhoto: Shutterstock

Written on a flight from Belfast to Stansted and dispatched to silicon.com a day later from a coffee shop on London's Pall Mall via a free wi-fi service at 6.8Mbps.

When I was a child, the UK enjoyed social norms inherited from its Edwardian and Victorian past. Politeness and discretion ruled, and people were in the main modest, constrained and careful. But technology has changed all that. We now have a much louder and more open society.

Along with other airline passengers, I was recently standing on a staircase waiting to be ushered onto a flight.

Behind me was a middle-aged man who was humming to himself, while at my side were two old men discussing something so quietly I could make out little more than the odd word. Further away, two women were rather indiscreetly discussing the dalliances of one of their husbands.

Another level down, a woman with a newspaper was reading about a state school providing contraceptives for 13-year-old girls without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

Then there was a young man with two smartphones. One looked like a Samsung and the other an iPhone. He appeared to be talking to his girlfriend on one while using the other to view rather revealing pictures of a female - his girlfriend perhaps?

Lastly, and right on the bottom step, a business man was watching an episode of The Good Wife on an iPad while wearing a wireless headphone that flashed red every three seconds. At the same time, he was texting and surfing on an iPhone.

This tableau was remarkable in that it was an almost perfect, and chronologically correct, timeline of society and technology.

At one end of the line was the conservative - quiet and discreet with no technology. At the other was the brash - loud and open with all the latest gadgets. On the one hand, people concerned about their information, and on the other people unthinkingly broadcasting everything, openly communicating without a care.

I didn't say anything. No one did. I just listened with interest, along with everyone else, to the discussion about a husband sleeping with a girl half his age and how a teenage party at the weekend had got out of hand. And all these conversations were accompanied by irrelevant, but interesting images and a TV programme sans sound.

How things have changed in less than one lifetime, and how open our society has become. I just wondered if any of these people worry about their security.

A quick scan revealed two Bluetooth signals and one wi-fi signal at very close range, including identifying names. It's a good job I'm not from the dark side - these pieces of information were open invitations to attack.

As for the two women discussing a husband, and the young man with the dodgy pictures, I just wondered if there was anyone on the staircase who knew them or the subject of their communication.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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