Privacy – the last frontier?

THE other day there was an interesting query from a reader on some newspaper’s letters page.

She commented that, whenever her UK family doctor gave her a referral letter to give to a consultant, it always had the same introduction (‘this pleasant lady …’) and wondered why.

Like most professions, medicine has its codes. Law, education (think of all those colour-coded forms in schools), religion – they all have them.

In this reader’s case, ‘this pleasant lady …’ means she’s polite and unassuming and so can be left hanging around in hospital corridors alongside trolley loads of sick patients without causing a fuss, while ‘this confident lady…’ (ie ‘demanding female’), ‘difficult case’ (ie. ‘hypochondriac’), and ‘would benefit from your full attention’ (ie ‘ borderline lunatic’) are given priority.

Now, this all has to do with confidentiality – and privacy. Or the lack of it, as increasingly seems the case these days.

We all accept that, if we tweet or blog, we are consenting to that communication being placed in the public domain, where we can reasonably expect it to remain forever.

Fair enough. Then there’s Google which is pooling the information it collects from all our searches and forming a streamlined database that will presumably offer tailor-made services to customers and advertisers alike.

Again, fair enough. But then there are so-called rogue mobile phone apps. And that’s something completely different.

In this case, not having read the lengthy Terms and Conditions, the user has not knowingly consented to having his or her data removed and used in a certain way.

Used in such a way that’s potentially dangerous, particularly when the rogue app comes from a rogue developer (hardly a stretch) and the user is a child.

A rogue app that steals your phone number and other personal data, if not stopped, will soon become a rogue app that steals your internet banking logon details, and sends it to organised criminals for fraud, ID theft and so on.

Or steals your credit card details when you buy something online. There are times when, owing to our consent, we may forfeit our right to privacy of some data, perhaps in a limited way.

But there are other times when it is downright wrong to collect and use it.

Nora Johnson’s novels, Soul Stealer & The De Clerambault Code ( available from Amazon in paperback/ eBook (€0.89; £0.77) and iBookstore. Profits to Cudeca

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