personal data

Who knew! God wants your mobile data too

Cartoon God

So long story short I stumbled across a great site for you to check out privacy ratings called PrivacyGrade.  I actually found this through reading an article by Kim Komando highlighting the cost to our privacy when we acquire free apps.  Of course some apps need our personal information such as google maps, but what about apps like the Despicable Me game or Fruit Ninja? Why on God’s earth do they need this information?  Speaking of God… more on that later.

We all know we don’t read the terms and conditions and unless you are on iOS you can’t set your own privacy settings on a case by case basis. This is where PrivacyGrade can help and it is run by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University who have devised a simple grading system from A+ to D.  This grading model measures the gap between our expectations of privacy behavior vs the actual behavior.

For example when you download Google Maps you know they will need access to your location data, or Gmail will need access to your contacts to make sending emails easier, you know what to expect and therefor both these apps get an A.  “It does what it says on the tin” so to speak.

In terms of the low scorers the most surprising was the #1 Holy Bible app which scored a D, the lowest grade.  This app’s permissions require full access to your network, your user accounts, your phone status and identity, can read your contacts and track your approximate location.  Not only that but you also give permissions to third parties such as Flurry, Facebook, Tapjoy, Jsoup and Oauth!  Who would have thought catching up on ‘His Word’  would require so much of your passive data.

Also concerning is the related app Bible for Kids which requires the same permissions. This was graded C which I don’t understand as the details are pretty much the same and I would have thought that our expectations would be stronger around privacy considering the target audience.  Targeted advertising to your kids anyone?

If you can’t be bothered to read the T&C’s check out the Privacy Guide




Ello, Ello, Ello….



So after quite a long wait I finally got my invite to Ello!

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ello it is the new social media platform which is committed to being ad free FOREVER.  This is truly exciting for a nerd like me who has a big interest in who owns/controls our personal information.  It has potential to offer a real alternative to other social platforms without the cost of  giving up our valuable information and pushing advertising right into our news feeds.

It does come with a learning curve so for any of you that are interested please be aware of the following

  • It is harder to use at first because it has unfamiliar terminology and navigation
  • You need an invite to become part of the network
  • It is ‘ad-free’ and promises to be forever
  • There are no ‘like’ buttons
  • You can upload photos but not videos (at present)
  • You don’t have to use your real name
  • You have two options for what comes into your news feed ‘noise’ or ‘friends’.  ‘Friends’ are people you have chosen to follow, just like Twitter and ‘noise’ are people you follow without alerting them to the fact you are following them
  • Your profile has limited components right now – a picture, a bio and your name
  • It is still in Beta so it is still growing and evolving – have patience
  • It is  transparent – it tells you what has been developed, what is coming and makes long-term commitments

I am probably a little starry-eyed right now and the proof will be in my network of friends and family being willing to go the extra mile and engage with Ello – currently they are most active on Facebook just like myself and why change?  For me it was their manifesto

Ello Manifesto


If any of you are interested in joining me on Ello, Let me know I am happy to send you an invite so that your wait doesn’t have to be as long as mine!


Date us don’t stalk us: The power of community

I had an uplifting experience last week and it was driven by my community, The Beaches.

Thursday morning I was reading my Facebook page and saw a note asking ‘has anyone found the Bengal cat that is lost and has been having seizures’?  The answer was no and I remember thinking how sad that was.

But let me step back and give some background.  I am part of my local community on Facebook, ‘The Beaches-Toronto’ and every day there are snippets of good news stories, recommendations, requests for help or anything relating to events in our area.  It reinforces the village feel and allows good neighbours to be…well good neighbours.  There are some aspects that I don’t like such as people complaining or judging others which can quickly incite a moral high ground lynch mob.  For instance there is a guy who walks on the beach wearing a short sarong maybe no underpants – I am happily unsure; he has a guitar and asks groups of women if they would like to hear a song (I stress women and not young girls).  I have witnessed this and had a chuckle with my husband and moved on – to me it seemed pretty harmless.  However, there are those that feel that he puts the community in danger and some even questioning whether it was safe to bring their children to the beach if this man was lurking around.  I don’t like this kind of news, because there is usually little context and people often jump to assumptions that can do harm to an individual.  Ok so the guy may have bad dress sense and no one wants to see what is underneath a mans kilt on a lovely sunny day, but should he be annihilated on social media without all the facts? Anyway that aside, I love being part of this group, my community and part of daily life here.

So when I saw this note about a Bengal cat it touched me, I have two cats and remember how I felt when my Leonard went missing last year.  I was besides myself and there were plenty of tears but luckily he turned up in the garden later that night –  so maybe I overreacted just a little.  Anyway I got up to my usual routine and was on my way out the door to take my dog Pepe out for a walk and there in my driveway was an orange cat which reminded me about the lost cat.  I called my husband who told me he had seen a lost poster for the same missing cat down our road.  So off I ran to get the owners number.  Ten minutes later she arrived at our house to find her cat Moby in our bushes.  It turns out he had been lost for 6 days after suffering a seizure and running away in confusion, he was diabetic and had been without his meds all this time.


Colleen, Moby’s owner, was absolutely over the moon and the relief was obvious, I doubt she had slept much in the last few days and had resigned herself to the probability that he was not going to be found.  She thanked me in person and on the FB community page and everyone rejoiced in the finding of this cat and reinforced why they loved their community so much.  We take care of each other, and this happy ending would not have been possible without the wide net of the digital village.

So why am I talking about this on a blog which is about protecting our personal information?  It is because I believe that for organisations to fully tap into our behaviour and gain access to our information they should start with being part of our community and metaphorically speaking be a good neighbour.  We prefer to be flirted with and taken for dinner rather than have a secret admirer rifle through our trash.  Once we are sufficiently  wooed we will share our personal information with the advantage of trusting who we are sharing it with, organisations could then gain so much more from this two way relationship and gather far deeper insight into our habits. I would rather willingly give someone my address than have them follow me home!

PIMS – Tune In, Maybe Turn On and Probably Drop Out

I understand the concept of PIMS (Personal Information Management Services), I understand the benefits and partly because of this blog I am motivated to invest my time signing up to a few, after all it is something I have come to feel passionately about.   The question is will the majority of others feel the same?  Now that I have joined 5 different PIMS I Speed-Bump-Signs-80549-bahave some good reasons to think that people will at first tune in maybe turn on but probably drop out.

The Trade Off

Currently there is little effort on our part, others are managing our data for their benefit and we are generally unaware of it being aggregated, analysed and reported on.  There are a network of beacons and trackers that connect all our dots and our time remains intact, in fact it saves us time in bill payments and online searches.  But if you want to manage your own data all of sudden there is quite a bit of work to be done.  When I stored my basic information I had to hunt round looking for my social security, passport, house insurance, household bills, address history, car details, residency card etc.  It took me over an hour and from now on I need to maintain it and update it when necessary.  Then there are the PIMS I joined that are social platforms, these require sign up and several verifications which although simple have more steps than other established networks.  Others required downloading software, sign up and data entry too.

It doesn’t matter what type of PIMS you join, there is an education process that simply takes time; learning what the organisation does, how the system works, signing up and navigating the dashboards.  I think PIMS need to consider how much time a individual is going to give up because each of us will be weighing up our time vs risk or time vs benefit and currently I am still asking how this is making my life easier.

The Intangibles

I am not sure anyone has an emotional response to data management, it really isn’t a sexy subject unless it has government conspiracy stamped on it.  I am not sure that it has yet hit the public what it really means when companies use our data, it is still too intangible.  We can grasp the fraudulent sale of our data or identity theft but targeted marketing? others profiting? better decision making?  Even with the latest Facebook emotional experiment, there wasn’t a mass exodus of people incredulous at the manipulation of our emotional behaviour.  It is all too vague and we are still detached, think of it like white collar crime – when does it get the front page or the crime wave title that more tangible violent crime does.

What are PIMS?

Very few people have heard of PIMS or data management services, and those that I have joined so far do not make it easy.  I have watched a lot of YouTube videos, read a lot of PDF’s and used the help button several times figuring all of this out, others will not.  Companies are not setting themselves up as a service provider but more of a software provider and that is a huge challenge for a beginner.  I would have loved a service rep to give me a call and talk me through it all.  Better still a service where I can give my approval to an organisation who will then connect to other networks and pull my data for me; even provide me with reports, updates or offers. If these services are relying on word of mouth to gain awareness then there needs to be better benefits and more ease.

What’s in it for me?

So far, not much.  Time spent on searching and signing up to all these services? I would guess about 4 hours.  In return I can block companies tracking my online behaviour – in chrome only and I have a central database with all my basic details. But mostly it is still a promise of better things to come; reports on my online behaviour to help me make better decisions, a ‘respect’ button to ensure other sites that I log in to keep my data personal, additional applications in a central dashboard and finally potential to profit from my personal information.  This is all very good but it is still just a concept without enough tangible gain.  I hesitate to make a final judgement because the industry is still young, but it is important it is addressed early in order to engage and hold on to customers.

It’s complicated

When do we store our data, where do we store our data and how do we store our data?  All of these questions are tricky, not only to the individual but those seeking to store it for us, and it is not just our online data it is our offline activity too and it is very hard to keep track of.  With all these items or instances the data accumulates at a rapid pace and important items can get lost amongst the trivial, this requires ad hoc tidying and clerical archiving requiring certain skills and someones time.  How are these management services going to integrate all our data in a uniform interface with a structure that makes it easy for us to reference or query?

Are these the only issues? Please share your concerns or reasons for not trying a personal data service.

In this article I have referenced a great book called ‘Personal Information Management’ edited by William Jones and Jaime Teevan.  If you want to learn more it is a great resource!

5 reasons to care about your personal information – Thursday #4

884245-1684x947-[DesktopNexus_com]“I often worry that my idea of personhood is nostalgic, irrational, inaccurate” Zadie Smith



Personhood– do we lose a bit of dignity when our thoughts, words, actions, behaviours, mistakes and hopes can be accessed by unknown entities and used to communicate with us? Does it make us a product and not a person? Orwell’s 1984 used to give us the shivers but now we barely bat an eye at being monitored through CCTV, mobile and the Web.  And while we now have some respite from being monitored offline in our homes even that is becoming an opportunity for data collection. Recently it was announced that Dropcam had been purchased by Google’s Nest subsidiary, Dropcam sells in-home video monitoring with cameras having capabilities for night-vision, motion and sound sensing.  Nest has now revealed that they will begin sharing data with Google despite promises previously that it would protect personal data.  What would Orwell have made of this?

Managing my personal data makes me more comfortable with my feelings of personhood because I have some control – it just gives me that feeling of ‘win-win’ with organisations that I choose to share it with.



5 reasons to care about your personal information – Tuesday #2

“You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else”  Albert Einstein


We don’t have enough knowledge around the trade of data to make an informed decision…  Personal information is a constantly evolving notion with the conversation ever-changing, just consider the change since Snowden’s revelations around US and British Intelligence surveillance of our internet and phone usage.   We’re quick to assume Government is the only powerhouse associated with access and collecting information. Corporate organizations need to harvest and store this information as well to ensure the most insight into us – the consumer.

Read this article published by CBR, they found that 4 in 10 organisations obstruct access to our own data when customers or citizens seek access and clarification on what these organisations know about them.

The article includes and excellent summary from Professor Clive Norris,  who summarised  “We part with our personal data on a daily basis, creating vast and invisible reservoirs of actionable personal information. We do this actively and passively, and our experience of the world is reshaped in ways that we don’t appreciate. We are selectively marketed to, our locations are tracked by CCTV and automated licence plate recognition systems and our online behaviour is monitored, analysed, stored and used. The challenge for all of us is that our information is often kept from us, despite the law and despite our best efforts to access it.”

Do you agree or do you think this is paranoia?