9 Aug 2013

Debate: who has your data – and should you care?

We share increasing amounts of data online but are horrified when it is stored. Who is watching you? Find out by watching the Data Baby Google Hangout.

The number of ways we can hand over our data has grown hugely in the last few years alone: from apps that monitor our heart-rate and movement, to web browsers that track our every click and search.

The number of people who go online every day in the UK has more than doubled to 36 million in the last seven years.

But at the same time, we are increasingly uneasy about how our data is used.

The adverts that follow our internet browsing have become unnerving, while the filter bubble which tailors our every search result is having big implications on the way we see the world. That’s even before we get into the implications of the Prism spying scandal which revealed how governments in the UK and the US are storing all the personal data that they can get their hands on.

The user is going to have to make a choice about how far they want to put themselves out there – James Lyne, Sophos

In a Channel 4 News Google Hangout, we explored whether the recent revelations about the erosion of digital privacy will change the way the internet works.

James Lyne, global head of security research at Sophos told Channel 4 News that the amount of information we’re sharing is “staggering” – but said that regulation is not the whole answer: “The user is going to have to make a choice about how far they want to put themselves out there.”

“I don’t think the pure wild west is the answer,” he added. “There is a duty of care that someone owes.”

Martin Bryant, managing editor of The Next Web, said that sharing is fundamental to the ethos of the internet: the more you share, the more you benefit.

“People do need to be careful, but at the same time we shouldn’t be scaremongering, because there is so much benefit to this data that we lose out if don’t at least join in,” he said.

James LyneSophos Global Head of Security Research
Caroline Skipsey – Director of Igniyte, online reputation managers
Martin BryantThe Next Web Managing Editor
Sarah Smith
Channel 4 News Business Correspondent
Geoff WhiteChannel 4 News Technology Producer

Tipping point?

There are signs that web users want an alternative. In the two weeks after revelations about the NSA’s Prism programme in June, the number of users of the anonymous search engine Duck Duck Go almost doubled.

The past three months has also seen a rise in the number of people seeking to control their digital image amid concerns over how they are portrayed online, said Caroline Skipsey from Igniyte, the online reputation management company.

People do need to be careful, but at the same time we shouldn’t be scaremongering – Martin Bryant, The Next Web

“A lot of our clients are just normal people who don’t want their information online,” she told Channel 4 News. “Something horrible has happened to them 10 years ago and news stories still exist… If people are googling their names, they’re seeing quite traumatic stories from their past and they just want to draw a line under that.”

Recent news stories about fatal online bullying, fakery on Facebook or government spying show that many are struggling with where to draw the lines in the digital sand.

As Martin Bryant told Channel 4 News: We’re still learning to live with this new world”.

Treasure hunt

As an experiment to test the extent of our digital footprint, we’ve been asking followers of the Data Baby to find out as much as they can about Rebecca Taylor, our virtual identity: everything from the school she attended way back when, to the festival she went to a few weeks ago.

And we’ve been surprised at the vast amount of information that some of our viewers have been able to gather.

The winner found out not only the Data Baby’s links to Channel 4 News, (despite our efforts to hide them), but the original source of the photos we used and the links between her “employer” and Igyniyte, the company we have been working with on this project. Congratulations Nigel King.