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Chairman's Blog - Big Data, Big Problem?

15th May 2018

 
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It is quite unnerving the amount of information we actually give out about ourselves. We let companies know our personal details, social behaviour, consumer preferences, spending habits and even our whereabouts. The phrase ‘Google it’ no longer involves typing, you simply ask the question out loud and an assistant of some description replies. We are even letting technology listen to our conversations and register what we are saying. Have you ever had a conversation about a brand or product, and a couple of minutes later seen an advert online or received an email about it? Today, we really can’t get away from it.

Should we be scared about how much data we are giving away, or do we just all know the deal? In 2017, the average time spent on social media per day was 135 minutes. You get a free service to connect with family and friends, but you give your data away and it is used to profile you. But, is this now going too far? The press has been dominated recently with the story of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Facebook insisted this was not a data breach, but did acknowledge it was a ‘breach of trust’. Up until this point, people have been comfortable with the deal we have, but that has all changed. I have seen Facebook and the like described as ‘surveillance’ companies, I think that is correct.

However, should we be bothered if we don’t have anything to hide? Big data knows I am a cyclist, so shows me information about bikes regularly. This can get annoying, but it is not a big issue. The concern starts for me when I think my Google Assistant is listening to my family conversations.

To add to these challenges from a consumer perspective, as a firm we also need to look at it from a legal perspective and this multiplies the challenges significantly. Can anybody honestly say they read the terms and conditions? In a recent research exercise undertaken in London, commuters were offered superfast Wi-Fi access if they signed up to the associated T&Cs – a large number of people did just this without realising that they had agreed to a “Herod Clause” which “assigned their first-born child to the provider for the duration of eternity” as part of the deal. If you were to read every set of conditions from everything you were signed up to it would take you around 75 days. It is all about knowing what the law is, and as a law firm it is our responsibility to communicate it as clearly as possible to our clients.

We also have a responsibility to keep our own data we store safe and confidential. I recently noticed WhatsApp claims ‘messages to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption.’ Does this mean anything you say or send in a WhatsApp conversation is never seen by anybody? If this is the case, should we, as a business, be communicating on WhatsApp? This obviously has its down sides. We would be communicating about work and the confidentiality would be welcomed. However, we don’t want terrorist-related conversations to be confidential and in 2017 this affected 80% of investigations into terrorism. This takes me back to my initial point, is this just a deal we need to accept?

On a lighter note, I spend a lot of time out of the office and everywhere I go I seem to see a Geldards pen. The marketing team tell me they are just good quality pens but with the amount of data we give out, through various devices, I am beginning to wonder if they’re bugged!*

*Note, Geldards pens are NOT bugged.


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CHAIRMAN

David Williams

DAVID WILLIAMS

Chairman, Derby

+44 (0)115 983 3757
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