Everyday Computing, Letters & Opinion

Expectations of Privacy

Image of Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant
By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

Earlier this week, I took an unusual decision to leave my private vehicle unlocked at a Castries car park to allow a convincing, charming, yet unknown car wash attendant to fully clean the vehicle inside out while I went about my business. After walking away, I considered whether I had sufficiently sanitised the interior of the vehicle before leaving it unsecured. The risk seemed low, and besides, I reasoned that another attendant was stationed nearby to keep a watchful eye on the entire car park. I returned later to a vehicle only cleaned on the outside, because it had automatically relocked itself, rendering the interior safe despite my own intentions, thanks to the designer of the vehicle security system.

I extended my thoughts on this experience to the wider issue of the trust that all consumers place in service providers who have temporary custody of personal computers and other devices. A quick check revealed that locally we have approximately twenty computer repair shops and ten mobile phone repair shops, plus an unknown number of others not easily found via online advertising or the phone directory. What happens when you leave your computer or phone behind?

Recently an Apple Store worker was fired for sending himself a customer’s “extremely personal” photograph while her phone was being repaired. Unfortunately, that photo was several months old, so it was not the first photo seen by that worker, who must have scrolled past several more recent photos from the customer’s phone.

With the increasing popularity of laptops, tablet computers and mobile phones, it is likely that we may eventually find ourselves needing such repairs at some point. Fortunately, we could take some simple precautions to avoid a similar situation. For example, you could save your photos on the phone’s removable memory card instead if its internal memory. Alternatively, store your documents in the cloud and remove your phone’s cloud access before attempting repairs. Of course, you could arrange for repairs of your devices in-house, where you could keep an eye on the repair technician.

A more sophisticated option, especially for those dealing with sensitive data, involves the storage of data on a physically separate disk drive. Our bankers, medical professionals, lawyers and others dealing with significantly sensitive information, should already be aware of the need to have separate storage for the operating system, and yet another storage device for data. Regular consumers should also take note and apply this advice as needed. We must do our part to protect ourselves from information loss and leakage.

Editor’s note: Dr Lyndell St Ville is an ICT Consultant with a background in environmental and resource science. His expertise includes systems analysis, planning, and capacity building. To share your views, contact the author at: www.datashore.net or via The VOICE.

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