Monday 10 December 2018

Warning over web giants exploiting our data

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Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

George Orwell warned of state surveillance in '1984' but a leading Trinity College professor fears tech giants are exploiting our personal data in a much greater way in 2018.

GEORGE Orwell warned of state surveillance in '1984' but a leading Trinity College professor fears tech giants are exploiting our personal data in a much greater way in 2018.

Eoin O'Dell, associate professor in law at Trinity College Dublin, is concerned how much of our personal data web firms possess and how they use it in a world of online surveillance far "scarier" than Orwell's dystopian novel written in 1949.

"In George Orwell's '1984', it was surveillance by the state and Edward Snowden showed us how extensive that was but this is surveillance by companies - which is even more insidious," said Prof O'Dell. "With services that have access to microphones, location, camera, the data they're taking can be significant and they can sell it on."

Prof O'Dell says this is a form of "surveillance capitalism" which is "developed not on the exploitation of labour but the exploitation of data".

He warns that surveillance can be carried out using an internet device with a camera or microphone. Conversations and images can then be streamed to main servers, enabling firms to build pictures of who we are and targeting us for advertising.

"Tech is creating all the ways data can be harvested. It's not just about us giving data but how it's being taken - that's what makes this scary."

Antoin O Lachtnain, from human rights group Digital Rights Ireland, said: "There's a microphone on your mobile phone and on apps. Companies say they don't listen in but I don't know."

Stephen Farrell, research fellow at the school of computer science at Trinity College, said: "It's possible to avoid giving away too much data but it's too hard for a person who doesn't know how to turn on their privacy online. It's a major failure from the tech community."

An Amazon spokesman said the company takes "privacy very seriously" while Apple said it doesn't gather personal information to sell to advertisers or other organisations.

A Google spokesman said: "Third parties aren't obtaining user data. We make available aggregated, anonymous data to advertisers, in order to facilitate placement of their ads in the most useful spots online."

Irish Independent

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