James Walker: Hasta la vista to data ends in nightmare

It may be wise to revisit your Facebook settings. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA
It may be wise to revisit your Facebook settings. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA
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Children of the 80s rejoice – there’s a new Terminator film on the horizon! Even more fabulously everyone’s favourite ass-kicking icon Linda Hamilton is back too. And in news that will please all sci-fi fans, James Cameron is on board and he’s ignoring all the rubbish sequels and picking up after the second one finished (awesome news).

In the original Terminator, the earth is destroyed by Skynet, an artificial intelligence with ideas above its station. Once this concept sat squarely in the realm of science fiction – but now reality seems to be converging with our worst fears.

I’m all for technology, but it pays to be savvy about your data and who’s reading and learning from it.

Take the recent Facebook scandal. You might be wondering why it’s a big deal. I’ve been warning for years now about Facebook quizzes that basically mine your personal data and use it to flog you things. What’s shocking is the sheer amount of information that’s been taken and stored (illegally in some cases).

Lots of people have told me they knew some profiling was going on but not the scale of it (I’ve put together a guide on how to reset your security for the big online sites and networks on Resolver). But we all need to be cautious. While lots of us won’t be too bothered by social media sites using our information to sell us things, recording our likely political leanings or personal details like sexuality, is a step too far.

Part of the problem comes from selecting options online that make life easier. If you’ve tried placing an order for goods or services online and can’t face typing out all of the information, you may use the “log in with Facebook/Google” options when using websites for things as varied as ordering a pizza or buying tickets for a gig. But every time you do this, personal information is shared.

And we’re also helping the machines learn. Those “guess your age based on a photo” games aren’t just there to flatter your ego. They help develop facial recognition software. Alexa or Siri ordering you some milk when you run out may be useful, but the systems are learning voice recognition and honing predictive technology from your interactions (plus they might be listening in when you don’t want them too, according to some reports).

So we need to have a debate about what happens with our data. There’s good news too. On 25 May 2018 new rules called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) kick in. They are designed to give you much more control over what businesses do with your data and you can ask them to delete it too.

You also have lots of existing rights too. If you’re concerned with how a business is handling your personal data you can report them to the Information Commissioner. Though they can’t make the business compensate you (that’s for the courts, I’m afraid) the Information Commissioner has powers to issue fines, investigate businesses and more.

And if you’re sick of marketing calls, texts and mailshots, speak to the free Telephone Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service. They can remove you from most lists.

So there’s a trade-off with tech. Use it to make life easier but be aware of the data you’re handing over – and how to turn it off.

You can complain about data mis-use at Resolver.