BBC Research & Development

The ethics of personal data?

The ethics of data in the era of the quantified self and the internet of things

Personal data and privacy?

What is personal in a hyper-connected world? Is privacy dead or just dying?

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Transcript: Personal data and privacy?

What is the difference between personal and open data?

Adriana - Personal data is personal. It’s about the human being and it has, it’s deeply connected with privacy.

Alexandra - Open data is data that can be anonymised and useful as an aggregate of many people’s data in order to ascertain things about the way we live.

Doug - Open data for me is the start of great conversation and discussions about what are the best ideas for mankind pushing forwards.

What data is important to you?

Aleks - Personal data is phenomenal, because it really foes offer insight into you know, people’s desires. You look at something like a search engine, and a search engine is a classic intention machine, what is it that somebody wants to get?

Alexandra - In any hardware that I buy, I always switch off location services.

Doug - My big fear is location data being accessed by the wrong people.

Aleks - Information that, that changes my status within a system, I’m uncomfortable with. You know, that changes for example, the stuff that’s advertised at me.

Jeni - I’ve made a very strong decision for example, that to, to release as little data as possible about my children in order to give them the choice when they grow up about how much of their personal lives they want to make open and available to everybody else. I don’t want to have made that decision for them.

Aleks - You implicate other people in activities, behaviours, assumptions, when you put relational data online.

How do companies make use of this data?

Doc - We are at such an early stage in the evolution of what the internet will become. That we’re, they businesses are like infants, their manners are horrible.

Aleks - There is a case in which a father phoned up Target and said what are you, what are you doing? Are you trying to, you keep sending all these coupons to my daughter you know, with diapers and with baby food and with baby jumpers and baby grows and all this kind of stuff, what are you doing? She’s sixteen years old. And Target saying, well maybe you need to have a conversation with your daughter because our big database has managed to pull lots of information together.

Alexandra - It can go very quickly from being personal and nice and useful to extremely creepy.

Doc - It would never occur to anybody in a mature industry like retailing, to trail somebody out of a store and plant a tracking beacon on them and say, don’t worry this isn’t personal, we’re only trying to follow you around and see what you’re doing so we can give you a better advertising experience. It’s a ludicrous notion on its face.

Glyn - If you wanted more privacy for your email, you could go and get email by paying for it and paying a relatively small amount of money and then not having your email analysed. Most people would rather not pay money for their emails, so they make a trade off for the advertising.

Doc - There are really legitimate uses for big data, you know, for if you’re a pharmaceutical company, if you’re in medicine, you want to know as much as possible about the human genome, about the conditions of disease. If you’re a power company you want to know about power use and consumption and distribution and as many variables as you can get into that. And that, to me, those are extremely legitimate uses for big data.

Alexandra - It allows them to hopefully cater to their audience in a more informed manner.

Doc - But where the big money is being spent, where investment within organisations is moving from manufacturing, operations, IT, all sorts of other places, is really to market. And it’s moving to marketing because its this assumption that oh, geez, people are coughing up data all the time whether they know it or not.

Jason - There’s an example of a prominent social network that’s released an application that, that basically listens to what’s going on in the room to try and work out what TV shows might be going on in the background. In actual fact, it’s, that’s in LG’s privacy agreements as well saying that if you, if you use the sound command features of the televisions, it wasn’t left to doubt, it actually said that private speech that occurs in the same room will be captured. So, their essentially – lots of things can be private apart from speech, you know – essentially yeah, it’s a hot mic.

Why should people care?

Jon - We always make mistakes and we always want to forget them and the trouble with the internet is that we can’t forget them.

Alexandra - I think the average person who’s going about their daily business doing whatever, they, yeah, they don’t care, don’t have a clue and probably shouldn’t really. As long as if something comes up and there’s a problem that emerges, they have access to tools.

Doug - If I was ever to have children I’d be very nervous about them having their smart phones giving away their location data to certain applications because there’s many applications that come across as genuine, but are actually, you know they have ulterior motives that are tracking data in the background.

Adriana - You create your identity by showing different aspects of your personality to the world. If you’re different to different people, if you have no privacy, you can’t do that.

Jason - The economy as a scale will favour the people who essentially hand over their data and the rest of us will be faced with a difficult or impossible choice if we want to actually opt out of that because you know, life will just become quite inconvenient.

Aleks - Fight for the spaces where you don’t, what you do now isn’t going to come and bite you in the butt in the future because that is part of our human, personal, psychological and social evolution.

Glyn - The ideal solution is to get to the situation where the end user doesn’t have to care.