@ Nick P,
" They used to say follow the money. Now, we should say follow the money*and the data*"
Ahh the not so ephemeral data...
A few of us are coming to terms with the idea of a spy in our pocket (mobile phone) because we think we have the illusion of being in control in that we can turn it off by pressing a button. Not realising that in fact we are doing no such thing it is not a real power button but a software defined button the action of which the Mobile Operators can change at whim.
But how many realise that turning the phone off or even leaving it at home or in the office is it's self damming data?
Simply because it is not normal behaviour for us as defined by the breadcrumb trail we have left previously of our everyday lives. Thus not normal can be viewed by some analyser of our data as abnormal or aberrant behaviour and thus an indicator of guilt by us or those around us.
But guilt of what you may well ask, and if I say of some action yet to be defined at some point in time if required by the analyser of the data or those they work for, you might think me paranoid.
And I would agree with you if it had not already happened, not just with the likes of East Germany and the old Communist Block, but also in the US with "Reds Under the Beds" fear giving rise to the senetorial witch trials by Joseph McCarthy.
For some strange reason every few years some one with political ambition feels the way to move forward is as a "heroic carrier of the nations flag against a foe" and if there is not a foe handy they create one.
George Orwell made much of this in his essays and books from observing behaviour in the BBC in London during the Second World War. And sadly he found in later life he had become a colabarator to a witch hunt.
But soon it will not be just our phones it will be every part of our lives such as what we spend...
The only thing stopping it is the cost of "Data entry", which untill recent times has been a limiting factor. Not just the financial cost but the political cost caused by having humans in the loop who might "betray the higher purpose" our political "betters" have decided is "for our own good"...
However where as data collection by the state is rightly viewed with deep suspicion, that by a business by way of a financial transaction is regarded as benign.
Few consider that a business might see profit in selling on this transactional data to a Government.
But they are wrong, this is exactly what we are now starting to see in the UK the official line has been "Fraud identification" but the real intent is "Taxation".
The "Land Tax" payed on every dwelling to the "Local Authority" (we call it "Council Tax") has in the past been judged on the "rentable value" or "rate" of the property. But this was not bringing in enough money, so it was changed to an estimate of what the property would be worth not where it was but in an average place in the area (based on property sale value).
This was again not enough money so the previous Government where looking at making it linked to disposable income as found by "store loyalty" and "Credit" card transaction data. But their idea was leaked and a public outcry followed.
So they switched to plan B and where in the process of setting it up for Northan Ireland. Put simply an "Inspector" will visit and if they think you have a nice home with all the mod cons, a quite street and nice views, then you will pay more. It is the modern day equivalent of the "window tax" and "soap tax" which did so much damage to our nations health in the past and like the Poll Tax was universaly hated.
But it gets worse...
Businesses want to reduce costs in the retail sector the two big easily changed costs are man power and stock. Bar codes on the packaging where the original front runner in this but they have disadvantages. One of which is finding and scanning them which is a manually intensive task that represents a significant cost to a business.
The solution as we know is Radio Identification (RFID) devices which contain identifing information for a product. most people do not consider what this means to their privacy not just in shops but public spaces and ultimatly their private lives as it strips away their anonymity.
Back in the early 1980's there was an article in Wireless World about Radio Tags and privacy. What has changed since then...
Well we now call them RFID's and we are now becoming aware of just how intrusive they are becoming not due to an Orwellian desire but due to "conveniance".
RFID's are actually cheaper than bar codes when built into the product during manufacture as it saves on packaging costs. At their cheapest they are a unique serial number at the expensive end they are as capable as smart cards (more so in some cases).
Most people would say "so what" or "what harm can they do?"
Well the answer is a lot. One aspect of RFIDs being used is to cut down stock loss. At the moment expensive items have "store tags" or "anti theft" tags attached these are even more costly than bar codes as they have to be manually removed at the point of purchase.
Well if every product has a built in unique serial number that can be detected at a reasonable distance then problem solved. You know what serial numbers come in as stock and get entered on the inventory, and you know when they are sold at the till. With appropriate gates at the store entrances and exits you know when an item leaves, if it's not paid for set off the alarm...
Sounds good and the likes of WalMart are looking into it very closely as it could represent a stock saving close to 10% of sales value...
But also it allows for those "self check out" tills to become much much less painfull. You just push the shopping cart through the unmaned checkout it reads all the RFID's (including your credit cards). gives you the total and you press the accept button and it debits your account...
Sounds good for the business and gives conveniance to the shopper sounds like a "win - win" unfortunatly it's not.
The thing about unique numbers in objects like your socks and underpants is they don't get deactivated so they get read as you walk through the checkout as well. It provides an instant analysis of you as a person such as expensive suit cheap underware, all of which tie you to your past purchases so your whole life style is revealed including associations to people you walk through a door with and send gifts to.
We know that there are already data mining products out there that can track these associations and derive information such as the one Bruce bloged about for phone records.
It will not be long untill similar is available for RFIDs. And yes hose businesses will happily sell the data to who ever wants to buy it.
And guess what not one jot of it is currently considered to be Personaly Identing Information currently and is thus compleatly unregulated...
What's the betting we will never get legislation to make it so?
Then how long before we get legislation making the collecting of such dat and forwarding it to the Government compulsory for "anti-terror" or some such...
As Bruce notes about crypto "the attacks get easier" well the same applies to privacy.
As you say,
"Cui bono? Who benefits?"
Like all Faustian Bargins we think we do untill we realise to late we have sold our souls for a short term minor benifit.