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Let's put a brake on the real snoopers

The outcry over the NSA/GCHQ Internet surveillance scandal can't hide the fact that huge corporations won't say what they know

By Jonny Evans
November 11, 2013 08:56 AM ET

Computerworld - Just how much control do individual Internet users have over the personal data collected by the big tech companies? The hand-wringing over government snooping has been warranted, but this is the question that should really concern us.

You see, while most people object to mass surveillance by the National Security Agency in the U.S. and the Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K. as a step toward some dystopian police state, we do at least get to vote for the governments that control that state. Yet when it comes to the big tech companies, we have no control at all.

Why do these huge unregulated corporations have access to so much information about us, and why do we have little or no oversight or control of the information they hold?

Just look at Facebook's clumsy and incomprehensible privacy tools for a sense of just how little attention is given to providing individuals with such control.

What is known?

Think about the things you don't know about the data the corporations hold about you:

* How much -- really -- of your personal data is held by big tech outfits such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google?

* What format is it collated in?

*Just how much visibility into your personal life is contained within this data?

* What kind of conclusions about you can be drawn from big data analytics based on that data?

* How anonymous is "anonymized"?

* Now that you have become the product, why are you unable to set your own price?

You can assume that your age, height, sex and nationality are known. And it's likely that in some cases your place of birth, elements of your ancestry and even the name of your first pet are known. Introduce the data held by retailers (Amazon, WalMart, Tesco, et al.), and even your shopping habits are known. Mobile providers know where you've been lately and where you are right now and may even be able to see where you are going.

So why can't users see this data? Why don't we have control?

All this information exists. That's the root of the anger felt at the unwarranted and uncontrolled surveillance habits of the big nations. We feel a sense of being violated, because we were never given a choice.

What makes it worse is that we have no idea just how much data the state holds, because we don't know how much information the big tech companies actually possess.

We can't check it for accuracy; we can't edit it for privacy. We have lost control of our personal information, ceding it in exchange for convenience to corporations that have proved themselves unable to keep that data safe. It's time to take the power back.



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