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The Herald on Sunday editorial

Herald on Sunday editorial: Perils of those trackers we carry

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technology companies probably know us better than we know ourselves, recording habits and patterns of behaviour we hardly notice. Photo / iStock
technology companies probably know us better than we know ourselves, recording habits and patterns of behaviour we hardly notice. Photo / iStock

We seldom stop to think about the personal information we are constantly transmitting to the world from the phone in our pocket. Every place we go, every cell tower we pass is capable of being recorded and stored, and somewhere it probably has been. We do not think about this sort of thing until an unsolicited message suggests somehow the sender knows our movements, tastes or preferences. And that happens so often now that we hardly think about it even then.

As our feature today suggests, technology companies probably know us better than we know ourselves, recording habits and patterns of behaviour we hardly notice. Commentator Peter Griffin calls it, "cool on one level but pretty creepy on another".

Probably most of us find it merely cool. The advent of social media has shown that privacy ranks well below self-publicity for most people. We can be the stars of our own movie, posting photos of every interesting thing we see, eat or envy, tweeting a running commentary on our lives.

We count our fame in followers and our success in likes.

Two-thirds of New Zealand's population log on to sites such as Facebook every day and an astounding 85 per cent of us now use social media to some degree. It is no longer just the young. Our story today reports that an AUT-led survey of 1400 New Zealanders last year found more than a third of those aged over 65 have a Facebook account.

If you are without one, and beginning to sense that the world is passing you by, you are not wrong. Receiving your news in the public realm you could be forgiven for thinking government spy agencies were the greatest monitors of those personal trackers called mobile phones. But Facebook may be holding more information about more people than the GCSB.

Your phone gives companies your movements, your occupation, the sound of your voice, your family and friends, the time and place you use their products and your recorded messages, as well as your internet browsing results.

It is possible, they say, to use privacy settings to restrict some of this, but why bother? Unless you are a public figure, nobody cares.

Your life is an open book only your friends will read. Unless of course, something untoward happens and everyone wants to know about you. It is then that your selfies and texts are liable to appear in the mass media and that is a more public experience.

Peter Griffin suggests that before clicking "send" it is always worth asking yourself, "how would this look in the paper". Call it your personal privacy test.

- Herald on Sunday

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