digital hermits

29 Oct

An excellent – if quite fantastical – piece in yesterday’s Observer advises people on how to disappear from the nation’s growing network of computer databases, CCTVs and electronic registers.

Nick Rosen
, editor of the “Off Grid” website, argues that “thousands” of Britons are choosing a life without utility companies, credit cards, supermarkets, and cars in order to be invisible to an institutionalised web of data-collection points that track almost every facet of our lives.

Personally, while I have no desire to scream, “stop this digital world I’m getting off,” I do worry about my digital footprint. I have various online accounts with companies such as facebook, PayPal, MSN, and flickr that could – and in all likelihood will – enable them to create a profitable profile they could use or sell for marketing purposes (or, IMO much more insidious, pass onto government agencies). A good friend, Political Penguin, argues that this readiness to pass on my information to private companies is hypocritical in light of my opposition to the proposed UK ID Cards. He has a point, but then, to the best of my knowledge at least, flickr hasn’t been accused of flying its customers to Syria for “electric-aided interrogation” (with regard to MSN, I couldn’t be so sure).

Also, I actually trust certain web-based companies more than I trust public institutions. Many governmental departments are riddled with people happy to pass on your info for a nice backhander. As Rosen points-out, 300,000 people could be authorised to view your centrally-stored medical information (what would insurance and pharma companies pay for such info?). Yes, such economic realities apply to private employees too, but I have a little more confidence in data security based on corporate profit and customer confidence, as government rarely cares about such confidence in the civil service.

I guess we web-users have to trade a little privacy for access to applications such as facebook, and yes, we must also accept that “free” apps have to be paid for. The outrage at the increasing level of advertising on facebook is mislaid and somewhat idiotic. Social networks have huge amounts of traffic and these commercial enterprises have to generate revenues from somewhere. We all enjoy technological advances thanks to significant shareholder investment, and investors must be rewarded with growth and dividends.

Conversely, we’re also right to be suspicious of companies who hold our data, and this is where watchdogs are necessary – however the nature of the web means that any accountability is perfectly possible through nebulous web-based activism, rather than governmental intervention. Through technology and communication, consumers can hold the companies they use to account. Had a washing machine that survived its warranty by only a few weeks? Tell the world on an independent whistle-blowing site or post a review to a consumer forum. Technology empowers both the customer and the service provider, so it’s in the interest of the customer to embrace it.


2 Responses to “digital hermits”

  1. October 29, 2007 at 5:21 pm #

    Have a look at I put in an email address I haven’t used for years and discovered that I’d set up a MySpace years ago, but had forgotten about it.

  2. October 29, 2007 at 5:21 pm #

    Have a look at I put in an email address I haven’t used for years and discovered that I’d set up a MySpace years ago, but had forgotten about it.

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