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Opinion & Analysis

Private life? Forget it in the open e-space

A desktop personal computer. In our ICT era, everything outside your own mind is open information  in a data free-for-all that few really appreciate the scale of. file photo | nmg
A desktop personal computer. In our ICT era, everything outside your own mind is open information in a data free-for-all that few really appreciate the scale of. file photo | nmg 

If you think privacy is some kind of right, rethink. In our ICT era, everything outside your own mind is open information in a data free-for-all that few really appreciate the scale of. This is unless you block that information.

For sure, I had been told by many ICT people over the years that no company email was private. But I discovered just how easy it could be to sit and read it all when our own company server became so overfull with emails that our host suspended our email server.

Our staff had been using webmail services to download and manage their emails, rather than downloading them into their own computers. The result, after years, was a huge email pile up. As I finally braved it into our domain c-panel, which is ICT speak for ‘control panel’, to see where all the data was that was maxxing out our server space, I was horrified to discover that ‘he-who-can-access-the-c-panel’ can also read every email.

Neatly lined up in a directory of company email addresses was a nice little button beside every one for ‘open inbox’. From the c-panel no password is necessary. Every member of your ICT team can rove in, out, and around in your email communications from CEO to secretary, unless and until you’ve downloaded or deleted them.

But even for those who download and delete, privacy is an empty dream. Unless you’re using encrypted communications, anything you do on your company server can be plugged into and read by your IT team.

In fact, they don’t need to stop at electronic communications. I remember being in the London office of a long-ago employer based in France when my laptop hung very badly. The French IT team fixed it remotely, entering my laptop. I just watched as windows flew open, settings got changed, and the problem was resolved by support several hundred miles away.

At the time, it seemed miraculous. But it didn’t seem quite so wonderful later when an irate CEO had IT delete the entire contents of my laptop remotely, including five years of family photos. In fact, nothing on any device is out of reach to your IT team. I worked for one company that provided its staff with smart phones as well, and didn’t mention it had access to all of those too.

Getting devices mended is high risk as well. I was once privy to a scandal where information flooded into a newsroom because a participant had put an IPad into his IT department for mending, not realising he had left his email account open. It all got passed on.

Maybe all that access to our data can be claimed as legitimate if it’s placed on a work tool provided by your employer: although I think the case is weak. But your privacy issues don’t stop at the workplace. As soon as you connect to any public WiFi, or any Internet provided by a company, unless you’ve crawled all over your own privacy settings, your whole contents are open season.

Most WiFis warn you to check your privacy settings, and you should.

But what few people realise is just how much can be reached if you don’t. It isn’t only about data. Perhaps the freakiest thing about all our devices that we use so freely to video call and connect is that others can also access your camera, and your mic. Both can be used as walkalong monitoring devices, at which point your device isn’t just holding data anyone can read, which at least is data you’ve decided to hold, they can also track your location, listen to you and watch you.

My own comfort in all this is that almost everything I write, say and do is inherently boring and unworthy of resources in the tracking. And the data volume on all of us is huge. But as Hillary Clinton and many others have learned to their cost: there is very little electronic privacy, in fact.

Big Brother became real years ago, and most of us never even noticed.

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