The unravelling of the News of the World scandal has put the tenuous right to privacy into the spotlight over the last week. As the extent of the News phone hacking operation has become clearer, people are asking questions about the safety of personal information.
But while the revelations of these scummy practices are certainly cause for concern, the fact is that this type of information-gathering is not new – stories of journalists digging through rubbish bins have long circulated.
The difference, as many commentators have pointed out, is that the targets this time were not just celebrities and politicians. They were victims of heinous crimes, everyday people like you and me. The fact that anyone - anyone at all - could fall prey to such an intrusion has been a bitter pill to swallow. The problem is it’s not just happening in the UK, and it’s not just journalists who are getting their hands on our most private details.
A few months ago I went to a photography exhibition in Sydney, NSW. After viewing the photos I was invited to vote for my favourite and enter a camera giveaway by filling out a simple form. I never sign anything without reading every minutiae of the fine print, and therein an issue became apparent.
The terms and conditions for the competition specified that in order for my vote to be counted, I would have to provide my full contact details, which could then be on-sold to third parties. I ripped up the form immediately.
“Why are you doing that?” asked a curious and somewhat concerned gentleman manning the booth.
I explained my reluctance to give my personal contact details to a company that may then hand it over to anyone, anywhere, without my knowing about it.
“No one’s mentioned that to me before,” he said, surprised. “I don’t think anyone’s noticed!”
And that’s the problem. Sometimes the only thing standing between your address, phone number, email, name and date of birth is a little box saying “do not share my information”. At other times there is no box.
When I relayed my dismay at the exhibition’s policy to colleagues and friends they were mostly surprised – some had even entered their own details into the competition. Again and again I heard the same story “I don’t read the fine print – there’s always so much of it!”
Everyone’s heard the stories of identity theft and fraud, phone and email scams, pushy door-to-door salesmen who somehow know your name. We all get bombarded with junk mail and spam. Working at CHOICE, I hear more than my fair share of stories about vulnerable people being targetted.
Aside from perhaps putting themselves on the do not call register, people are reluctant to do anything about it. But there is something you can do – guard your name, address, email and date of birth like you would your voicemail messages.
Have you ever had your information dealt with unethically? Do you always read the fine print?