24 July 2013
About a week ago I bought a device called a Securifi Almond from Amazon. I can highly recommend it but for one thing. A couple of days later I was phoned from America by Zafar Sayeed from Securifi Technical Support. Zafar was informative, charming and interesting; we must have talked for ten minutes. It was only when I got off the phone that I asked myself, ‘How the hell did he get my number?’ So I emailed Zafar and received the following response.
‘Since, you ordered Almond from Amazon and we are a seller there, we have gotten your contact details from Amazon. We always take special preventive measures to keep your information only up to us and use it only when it’s needed. We will ensure that you won’t get any unsolicited calls from us.’
This is, of course, a gross breach of trust by Amazon which suggests that many others have been given my details. It is the latest in a series of incidents in recent weeks that have warned me that I am out there in cyberspace in unacceptable ways. Sharks selling deals to get back my PPIs have my name and mobile number. I also got a call from somebody pretending to be from o2. Etc, etc. Perhaps this is harmless but, for me, it engenders a kind of neurosis in which one expects to be subjected to a hard sell at every turn. This makes life worse.
In anger I sometimes think I should do something about my information, but, of course, it is now pointless. Thanks to my obsessive web curiosity, the spavined nag known as My Privacy is a horse that bolted long ago. I could go off grid, but as Eric Schmidt warned us in his chilling book, that will in the future provoke the suspicion of the authorities, and, anyway, I could not do my job unless I wrote solely about being off grid.
And, speaking of Schmidt, a man of annoying glibness, I raised the question of privacy with him, pointing out that it was a vital and necessary constituent of freedom. He did not respond. The Mail then helpfully informed us how much he values his own, if not ours.
Never mind, as Schmidt well knows, all our nags have bolted and are currently being traded aroud the world. Of course, post-Snowden, the internet companies assure us their hands are clean when it comes to government demands for information. You can believe them if you like, I don’t, and, in any case, the fact that our information is held by companies whose over-riding responsibility is not to us but to their shareholders should be enough to prove that no information can ever be secure again. One day Google or Apple will be going out of business and selling their assets – you and me – to save themselves.
The young don’t seem to mind and perhaps I shouldn’t. But the possibilities are so appalling. Not the least of those is being found guilty of something in absentia by mathematics. Adjacency matrices are just the sort of dumb maths device that will scatter false positives like confetti and, one day, you will not be able to fly and not know why.
Loss of privacy makes us lesser beings, ‘men without chests’, if you like. But, sadly, we feel obliged to trade it away for neat little boxes like the Almond which, on a consumer note, really works well.