17 November, 2006

They're watching what?

One of the most sensible perspectives I've yet read on the matter of privacy, although written specifically in the context of harvesting data by offering a free service, makes sense across the board.

See "Some perspective on privacy" written by David Pogue. After reviewing a service that offers free international phone calls, David commented on the level of suspicion among some that this could be a ruse to harvest telephone numbers. "I’m as interested in privacy as the next person. But if someone were interested in harvesting phone numbers, why would he go to the trouble of launching this elaborate phone-services company? Wouldn’t it be infinitely more efficient just to pick up a tidy, complete, ready-to-harvest, pre-compiled list of phone numbers – a little thing called the *phone book*?". As David points out, who would care enough to pursue our "mundane daily communications"?

Our details are recorded in plenty of places as it is without looking for perceived faces behind rocks at every move.

I've been surprised by the number of friends and colleagues in the information and technological fields who are seriously suspicious of the motives of some (well, it's mainly one name that crops up regularly) of the most popular search engines. The nature of my job means that most of my day is spent on the Internet, pursuing links and searching for specific resources. That same search engine is my default choice, unless a particular search indicates a different approach. The reason for my choice is that it has the largest electronic footprint around, leaving me free to apply discernment in my choice of parameters and, hey presto, I'm not often disappointed in the results.

Considering what I am gaining from the service, if the company really does have the resources to trail me endlessly around my ever-changing electronic maze, why should I be concerned? In the work context, my employer could insist on standing behind me watching exactly the same processes and I would have no grounds to refuse. I feel strongly about my right to privacy but is what I do in a public domain really 'private' anyway?

Having said this, I am by no means advocating a careless approach to the way one dispenses personal information. The escalating number of cases of identity theft, at best the consequent inconvenience, reminds one constantly of the need to be reasonably cautious.

An example I've used more than once when addressing various audiences is that one wouldn't write one's personal information on a slip of paper and hand it to strangers at a mall. Why would one carelessly make the same information available in an electronic forum from which it cannot be redeemed?

As with most of life, it's finding the balance that counts.

PS I do kill cookies ruthlessly and frequently

16 November, 2006

"ctrl s" no longer suffices : the mind boggles

As one who falls clearly into the half of the universe that sees electronic information as a blessing despite the responsibilities that come with the turf, I've read some interesting articles in recent days relating to developing legal requirements in the corporate field :

Corporate communication : why we can't just 'send and receive' anymore?, on the Bizcommunity website (South Africa. 13 November 2006)
"Email has to be well-managed in order for a business to achieve optimum levels of digital communication. However, another, arguably more pertinent reason for this discipline, is the current focus on the archiving of data and access to electronic records. Corporate South Africa is being directed, through legislation and industry-led awareness campaigns, to ensure that they tow the line as far as the way information is archived, accessed and reproduced" ;

The rise of electronic evidence - CNet News website (US. 8 November 2006)
"If you want to succeed in litigation these days, it is imperative that relevant electronic data be preserved. The destruction of such data can lead to serious adverse evidentiary inferences, as illuminated by a very recent case . . . A federal magistrate in Michigan recently was called upon in the case to decide whether and to what extent sanctions should be awarded with respect to the failure to preserve certain electronic evidence" ;

The legal danger lurking in the server on the Economist Intelligence Unit's website (US. 10 November 2006)
"In three weeks’ time, new rules come into force in US federal courts that could profoundly affect how companies treat electronic information, from e-mail and voice-mail to iPods and flash drives. The rules cover “electronic discovery” – the art of producing the right electronic documents to respond to a lawsuit . . . One of the most controversial and confusing aspects of the new rules relate to preservation of electronic information : can companies re-cycle the tapes they use to back up information on corporate servers, or do they need to keep all the back-up tapes in case they are ordered to produce them in court? And at what point do they need to start saving information : when they get sued or as soon as they think they might get sued? There is no hard-and-fast answer, but companies are worried".

12 November, 2006

The desperation of 'Mr and Mrs Average' : a family suicide averted

Please read "'Why I wanted to kill my family'".

The article builds on the point that people who commit family murders are considered, at best, mentally unstable. At worst - few words suffice. I consider myself a compassionate person but have come no closer to understanding what might drive a dedicated parent to that level of desperation, being content to accept that it is something I likely will never comprehend.

This article left me in tears for the first time, in response to the written word, in a long time. It records a letter received from two dedicated parents who debated this option when it seemed that financial pressures would tear their family apart.

Both parents are employed : "Despite us both having permanent jobs, our take home salary is approximately R4 500 per month . . . We simply do not qualify for a mortgage bond which would enable us to purchase a home of our own, and we certainly would not dream of invading municipal or any other private property and erecting a dwelling there in defiance of the law. Breaking the law is just not in our nature".

Reaching a point where the couple can no longer afford to rent a home, they have approached various authorities and organisations to try and find a solution.

Their story has a perversely 'satisfying' status at present : the family has survived, but the parents have moved into their respective parents' homes with two children each. This young family is alive but living under extreme stress, separated by a system that caters to the needs of the destitute and the wealthy but is destroying the lives of 'average' citizens.

"So, when you write our story, consider our epitaph, and be careful of labelling us as cowards, because rest assured, desperation and hopelessness devastates all of us, and it is quiet desperation that compels us to take the actions we do. Ask yourself when you write and read the stories of those you have labelled as cowards, what you could have done to help others like ourselves and maybe yourselves, and at least consider, even for a moment, what each and every "coward" has gone through and what you could have done to prevent it".