Snoopers' charter? That's the least of your worries


Theresa May's plan to record details of all our calls and internet use has provoked outrage. But our online activity is being monitored all the time - and you probably didn't even know it. Kevin Rawlinson reports

Max Schrems is no Luddite. The law student was savvy enough to know that, if he requested it, Facebook would have to release all of the data it has collected on him since he joined. Even he, though, was taken aback by the amount of information Mark Zuckerberg's social network had on him.

When his report came back - all 1,200 pages of data - he saw details of friend requests he had ignored; people he had "defriended" and even items he had deleted from his account.

"The scary thing was, with a simple 'Ctrl+F' search function on the computer, I could search for terms and key words. I found it was possible to build up a picture of who I am, what I like, who I might vote for," he said last year, after launching a campaign to highlight the issue.

Yet everything in the file was information Mr Schrems, 24, voluntarily gave Facebook, which - like most other internet giants - is a free service. His experience mirrors not only those of Facebook's estimated 900 million users, but those of everyone who has ever "Googled" something, entered their personal information into a website or - to some extent - even loaded a web page, whether they know it or not.

Today's headlines are about new powers for the police. But people and companies - both legitimate and illegitimate - have been using internet users' data for good and bad for years. Google and Facebook are probably the most notable examples of sites which feed off the data their users give them. Both have targeted advertising. For those adverts to be worth the pixels they are printed on, they need users' information.

The latest online data controversy has been over the use of cookies: the pins in an online map of where internet users have been. These allow sites to track where people go. Internet protocol (IP) addresses, which every user has, give a rough indication of location.

Those examples of pieces of information users routinely hand over, put alongside all of the data they volunteer while using a site, allow people to build up online profiles and to extrapolate what users might be into.

"One of the things, if you look at any social networking site, is that there are ways to slice and dice the information which is disclosed and what is done with it. But, in many cases, you have to look very deep to work out how to configure it in that way," said David Enn, the of Russian online security company Kaspersky Lab.

Google, one of the highest-profile sites when it comes to data collection, is also one of the most transparent about how it uses that information. It has a section on its site where users can go to learn about how to manage which information they hand over and, by not signing in, they can remain anonymous.

The company says that its products work much better when users let them learn their characteristics. Google's former chief executive, Eric Schmidt, spoke last year of building a "serendipity engine", which could go beyond simply returning bland results to searches but actually inspire users to visit sites they had not even thought of. But that requires personal data - and a lot of it.

"Services like Facebook or Google already have an astonishing amount of information about most people. Users are simply used to providing their contact details and sharing a great deal about their lives," said James Lyne, director of technology strategy at Sophos, another Web security specialist. "Many treat these services like they are speaking to a closed group of privileged friends, but it has been shown how widespread such information is actually exposed."

It can, of course, go wrong. In 2010, Google admitted it had inadvertently collected sensitive personal data using software installed in the cars it sent to photograph Britain's streets for its Street View application. And earlier this month, members of the professional social networking site LinkedIn became the latest to have their passwords leaked when about 6.5 million of them found their way on to a hackers' forum.

The inevitable discussion, as the new Data Communication Bill goes to Parliament, will be whether data should be collected about people who have not been arrested on suspicion of any crime - and the cost of the whole plan.

Vicente Diaz, an online security expert at Kaspersky Lab, said: "There are firms already working on building your public online profile. Once it gets this far, you have already lost control of your data."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement