Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Throwaway Society

Last week yet another MP resigned after an ill-judged Tweet. Never a day seems to go by without someone in the public eye cocking up social media or making bad decisions about what they allow to get out in the public eye.

The ability to put one’s foot in it seems to be a prerequisite for many modern celebrities. Although to be fair we are all probably the same, but the consequences of opening the mouth without engaging brain are less severe for us ordinary souls.

However, we do all seem to believe that some things will always remain private. Those ill-judged emails, the drunken texts, the office party bum photocopy incident...they are all distant memories no one will ever see again.

Except they will, if you don’t clean or destroy your hard disk or your phone memory.

Most people, and certainly everyone of a certain age (less than forty? Maybe a bit younger), lives on their electronic devices. Our phones go everywhere with us. Our laptops contain documents and spreadsheets dating back years, not to mention passwords, bank account details, credit card numbers and the like. Good grief, when I think about it, I am surprised I ever leave the house.

So when we use them, and abuse them, why are we surprised when it comes back to bite us? If it is not commonsense to tweet whilst drunk or angry or whatever, it is not commonsense to dispose of data storing devices without thinking about the data they still contain?

Do you remember when journalists used to go through bins outside celebrity houses or government offices? It was amazing what people threw away. I am sure it precipitated the rise of the portable shredder, something a lot of people own these days, just to shred their personal correspondence. It was the same thing before the digital age.

We have to wise up. When I was a kid, my parents told me to count to ten before replying to someone if they were annoying me. Today, I tell my son not to get into slanging matches on social media, because it is easy to cause offence or lose a friendship in the heat of the moment, hidden behind the false anonymity of the keypad.

Our next lesson has to be protecting our data.

Do you know that printers often have memory too? It is quite possible to get sensitive data out of a discarded printer of certain types. Fax machines. Mobiles. They all store data and represent a risk. We need to learn to respect that and deal with it, both in terms of keeping these devices safe whilst we own them, and in terms of disposing of them when we are moving on.