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The End of Privacy: Tragically Comical Edition

By Dave Convery,

It’s hard to avoid privacy-based stories at the moment, with growing concern over government snooping and the limits of power. But where I’m based, in the UK, there’s a new, fully-privatised invasion of privacy. One marketing company has created an outdoor wi-fi basestation that grabs your phone’s MAC address as you pass, with the idea of gathering and selling data on where you go, where you shop, and so on.

Because this is the country that brought you Monty Python, this takes a suitably ludicrous form of a wi-fi enabled bin. Yes. That’s right. The technology that is quietly slurping up your phone details is embedded in a bin, nestled snugly between the cigarette ends and discarded sandwiches.

Obviously wi-fi bins are nowhere near as pervasive or potentially disturbing as email-gathering systems or similar, but there is an obvious parallel – the expectation of privacy is being substantially eroded. In the case of the bins, you’re essentially being tracked for marketing purposes, as with a tracking cookie (the manufacturer touts the system as “a cookie for the real world”). However, there’s no way to block it as you could with a browser, you’re unlikely to know it exists (arguably still a problem with website cookies), and the only way to opt-out is to first know that it’s happening, find out who’s doing it, and then visit their opt-out page. Seems unlikely, right?

As it stands, it’s a pretty silly story. But it’s the sort of thing that’s definitely going to happen more in coming years. And as soon as that data exists, it will be used. The company behind it might be selling it in an anonymised fashion, but there’s nothing to stop people who aquire that data putting two and two together. DBAs tend to be naturally security-minded so: does this sort of thing worry you? And (if you feel you can answer) are you ever worried about the uses of the data in your care?

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