When I was in University I was pointed towards a book that might be of interest to me. The book was “1984” by George Orwell and upon reading it became a favourite of mine. For those that haven’t heard of this literary work before, the book is the story of Winston Smith and his perception of life; his intellectual rebellion against the “all seeing” Party and his consequent imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and re-education.

The character Winston Smith has no privacy. His apartment equipped with two-way telescreens, so that he may be watched or listened to at any time. Written correspondence is routinely opened and read by the government before it is delivered and figures for all types of production are grossly exaggerated (or simply invented) to indicate an ever-growing economy, when the reality is the opposite.

Orwellian Tele-Screen

It’s a fantastic book that I urge you to read as it outlines some key issues that we are seeing unfold today. I have only one quarrel with the text; Orwell was an optimist.

The year is 2013 and I have no privacy. My computer, mobile phone and gaming consoles have webcams that can be accessed by government bodies. My private email messages containing personal information are routinely opened and valuable information mined to sell me more products through advertising and every day more and more of my personal data is being collected by governments and corporations; and these are just the things that we now know about.

People are fiercely honest with the web. Our social networks are full of information that can be access by anyone at any time.

In 2011, Professor Alessandro Acquisti (et al) investigated the feasibility of combining publicly available Web 2.0 data with off-the-shelf face recognition software for the purpose of large-scale, automated individual identification. The study allowed them to create a basic system that could scan a user’s face and return personal information that had been collected from social media profiles. A scary thought in itself but by combining face recognition with the algorithms they developed in 2009 to predict Social Security Numbers from public data you begin to see how our data is at the mercy of technology.

Anyone that tells you that they have nothing to hide, just haven’t thought about it long enough.