Category Archives: Discussion


Digital dependence is ‘eroding our memories’

Excessive reliance on the internet and search engines for fact finding is damaging our long-term memories as well as compromising IT security, a new study has found.

Fuelled by an increasingly connected world that is always online, we no longer hold in our minds information we can store and retrieve from a digital device or the Internet, causing what the report has termed Digital Amnesia.

Crucially, it found that one of the far-reaching consequences of a failure to make use of our existing stored memories – for example by preferring to search online – can ultimately result in their dilution or disappearance.

The study, which involved 6,000 consumers aged 16 and up from across Europe, found that when faced with a question, over a third will head straight to the internet for an answer, rising to 40 per cent of those aged 45 and over.

Amost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents admit they would forget the online answer as soon as they had used it, rising to 27 per cent of those aged 45 and over, with 12 per cent assuming the information will always be out there somewhere.

Dr Maria Wimber, a pyschology lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said that the trend of looking up information  “prevents the build-up of long-term memories”.

She added: “Our brain appears to strengthen a memory each time we recall it, and at the same time forget irrelevant memories that are distracting us.

“Past research has repeatedly demonstrated that actively recalling information is a very efficient way to create a permanent memory.”

The report’s finding that many people rely on computers instead of memorising information was highlighted by the fact that many of those questioned could still recall their own phone numbers from childhood, but did not know the current numbers of family members or their place of work.

The report also found that IT security can be an early casualty of our impatience to access information online. Kaspersky Lab, the cybersecurity firm which carried out this study, has found that just under a fifth (18 per cent) of consumers – 22 per cent of those aged up to 24 – will opt for speed over protection when downloading files.

This leaves the door wide open for malicious software intent on stealing personal data and compromising the device and any other devices connected to it.

If consumers haven’t protected their data, their online accounts and devices with strong passwords and data back-ups, the memories and information these hold could be lost or damaged forever.

Of course, users can protect their data (if not their actual memories!) as regular back-ups will ensure that all their social media history remains in their app on their desktop, safe, secure and always available.

data global

Facebook data transfers under threat after Safe Harbour ruled invalid

Facebook’s right to transfer personal data from the EU to the US has been dealt a blow after the pact it was being done through was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice.

The Safe Harbour agreement (Safe Harbor stateside) was a voluntary pact set up 15 years ago to get around the fact that US data protection laws are significantly less rigorous than their EU counterparts.

Under the scheme, US companies self-certified that they were talking adequate data security precautions in order to be able to access and use European data.

More than 5,000 US companies take advantage of it, as well as global tech giants such as Facebook, which registers users outside of the US and Canada under its Ireland subsidiary Facebook Ireland Ltd. It is estimated to be reponsible for 83.1% of all worldwide Facebook users, but moves data from Dublin to the US to be processed.

But after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the mass surveillance activities of America’s National Security Agency, which were alleged to include European data, in 2013, Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems asked the Irish Data Protection Commission to do an audit of what material Facebook was passing on.

They declined, citing Safe Harbour, so he appealed to the European Court of Justice, which has today ruled in his favour.

Following the judgement, Mr Schrems said: “I very much welcome the judgement of the Court, which will hopefully be a milestone when it comes to online privacy.

“This judgement draws a clear line. It clarifies that mass surveillance violates our fundamental rights. Reasonable legal redress must be possible. The decision also highlights that governments and businesses cannot simply ignore our fundamental right to privacy, but must abide by the law and enforce it.

“This decision is a major blow for US global surveillance that heavily relies on private partners. The judgement makes it clear that US businesses cannot simply aid US espionage efforts in violation of European fundamental rights. At the same time this case law will be a milestone for constitutional challenges against similar surveillance conducted by EU member states.
“There are still a number of alternative options to transfer data from the EU to the US. The judgement makes it clear, that now national data protection authorities can review data transfers to the US in  each individual case –
while ‘safe harbor’ allowed for a blanket allowance.
“Despite some alarmist comments I don’t think that we will see major disruptions in practice.”

Facebook had yet to comment at the time of publication, but it may well be forced to stop EU-US data transfers at least in the short term, at least until new certified contracts are in place.

Two things are immediately obvious – this will have a wider impact not just for data processing operations like Facebook, but any company that transfers any data overseas for any reason.

And secondly that you can only have true control of your data when you hold it under your own resources, although of course you may need to trade it for access to services from external companies.

If data security and privacy concerns you – and it should – is committed to giving you back control of your data, for you to use as you wish. Download a free trial here.

data loss

Why human error is the biggest threat to data

If you think shady criminal cartels, blackmail attempts or straight-up hacking geniuses are the biggest danger to any data held about you online, then we have news for you – plain old human error accounts for far and away the most data breaches.

New research has revealed that human error continues to be the leading cause of data loss for organisations in the UK.

The Databarracks report, which was based on a survey of 400 senior IT workers, revealed that 24 per cent of organisations admitted to a data loss caused by employee accidents in the last 12 months, ahead of hardware failure (21 per cent) and data corruption (19 per cent).

This report comes hot on the heels of data released by the Information Commissioner’s Office earlier this year, which showed that 93 per cent of the 459 data breaches reported to the office in Q4 of 2014/15 could be put down to human error in some way.

It also follows a serious data breach by a London health clinic earlier this month which saw  the email addresses of hundreds of patients, many of whom are living with HIV, accidentally sent out publically to all recipients of a clinic newsletter.

Oscar Arean, technical operations manager at Databarracks, said: “Human error has consistently been the biggest area of concern for organisations when it comes to data loss. People will always be your weakest link, but having said that, there is a lot that businesses could be doing to prevent it, so we’d expect this figure to be lower.”

Interestingly, the Databarracks results weren’t fully consistent across all business sizes, with a breakdown revealing that in large companies, hardware failure led to most data loss, with 31 per cent of all cases up from 29 per cent in 2014.

Arean said: “This isn’t surprising as most large organisations will have more stringent user policies in place to limit the amount of damage individuals can cause.”

Arean goes on to suggest that SMEs should adopt more of a big business ethos when it comes to managing human error:

“The figures we’re seeing this year for data loss due to human error are too high (16 per cent of small businesses and 31 per cent of medium businesses), especially considering how avoidable it is with proper management. I think a lot of SMEs fall into the trap of thinking their teams aren’t big enough to warrant proper data security and management policies, but I would disagree with that.

“In large organisations, managers can lock down user permissions to limit the access they have to certain data or the actions they’re able to take – this limits the amount of damage they’re able to cause. In smaller organisations, there isn’t always the available resource to do this and often users are accountable for far more within their roles. That is absolutely fine, but there needs to be processes in place to manage the risks that come with that responsibility.

“Of course small organisations don’t need an extensive policy on the same scale that a large enterprise would, but their employees need to be properly educated on best practice for handling data and the consequences of their actions on the business as a whole. There should be clear guidelines for them to follow.”

So what does this mean for us and our data? While in an ideal world the individual would be at the centre of their own connected life in full control of their own data, it is unrealistic in our current world to hold all our data close to our chests when so many end users have or demand access to it.

So is it safe out there in the big, bad world? Yes, largely speaking, and the benefits to us in areas such as health of having our details instantly available to all medical services, for example, certainly outweigh the chances of being subject to a damaging data breach.

But it is certainly a sobering thought that, no matter how thorough the legislation governing data handling and the individual company policies in place, just one simple, human mistake can be enough to bring all that crashing down.


British spies want shorter and less secure passwords

If you thought the purpose of passwords was to be as strong as possible to give your information and accounts the best chance of being secure, Britain’s spies at GCHQ have news for you.

In a new document, Password Guidance – simplifying your approach (PDF), the organisation’s cyber director said that advice has moved on from previous guidance to make passwords stronger as a greater deterrant to hacking.

Now, the spy agency is suggesting IT managers help install systems that make passwords easier to remember. Yes, you did read that right.

The report claims that the average UK user has 22 different online systems that are password protected – clearly more than most people can remember – with the same supposedly safe password used to access around four of these.

It says the need to remember multiple passwords for different sites leads to unsafe behaviour, such as writing them down, duplication, or using simple or predictable passwords creation strategies.

But it also stresses that, crucially, the bottom line is that even following best practice guidelines (ie not doing any of the above) cannot guarantee keeping online services secure. Key loggers, phishing and interception are all cited as credible risks, with information about how to carry them out and the tools to do so easily discoverable on the internet.

In a foreword to the report, Ciaran Martin, Director General for Cyber Security at GCHQ (cool job title!) said: “Complex passwords do not usually frustrate attackers, yet they make daily life much harder for users. They create cost, cause delays, and may force users to adopt workarounds or non-secure alternatives that increase risk.”

It suggests that simplifying an organisation’s approach to passwords can reduce the workload on users, lessen the IT burden, and – crucially – “combat the false sense of security that unnecessarily complex passwords can encourage.”

It lists seven key steps that organisations (and individuals) can take to optimise system security, which are:

  1. Change all default passwords (well, durr)
  2. Only implement passwords when needed to minimise user overload
  3. Understand the limitations of user-generated passwords (tl:dr they encourage insecure behaviour)
  4. Except machine-generated ones have their own problems (tl:dr they’re difficult to remember)
  5. Prioritise admin, mobile and remote user accounts as these are more important/vulnerable
  6. Use account lockout and protective monitoring
  7. And, of course, don’t store passwords as plain text

Will seeming to be good, impartial advice, it’s worth remembering that this does come from the people who broke antivirus software so they could spy on people, so feel free to take it with a piece of salt if you are of a cynical disposition.

ad-blockers, apple, ios9, data, advertising

Why ad-blockers really aren’t the data privacy win you might think

Ad-blockers shot straight to the top of the paid-for apps list in the App Store when Apple’s iOS9 update that allowed users to block mobile advertising was released.

So far, so not unusual – ads are pesky little things, right? Popping-up unexpectedly when you least expect them and generally bloating pages, crucifying page load times and eating up data allowances. Not to mention their tracking qualities as well as the past searches and purchases that stalk you round the web, site after site, day after day. Nope, no redeeming features at all – let’s block them all.

Then something unexpected happened – Marco Arment, creator of the no1 paid ad-blocker Peace, pulled it from the store after just two days, saying that “success didn’t feel good”.

What exactly the problem is remains unclear, altrhough comments on the Instapaper’s founder’s blog where he talked of needing to find a “more nuanced, complex approach” offer some clues.

He added: “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

What Arment seems to be alluding to is what Seth Godin termed the shared understanding that websites offer free content in return for attention. For most sites, advertising is what quite literally pays the content creation bills.

Of course, pages have become increasingly riddled with evermore intrusive ads over the past few years, and it’s hard not to see that the reader has been assailed from all sides. So the appearance of ad-blockers was only going to end one way. Or, as Godin put it: “In the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all.”

But still the fact remains that readers and sites have been in a mutually-beneficial relationship where advertising has played a key role in funding content for which there is demand but no serious suggestion that users would pay the full creation cost. And that remains the case even as ad-blocking apps proliferate.

So if ad blocking is not the answer, what is? There is clearly change needed on both sides – advertisers needs to show self-restraint and not machine gun content over every page we open, while users need to understand that on the internet, as with so many things, we can’t simply have the good for free without giving something back.

But there also needs to be a fundamental shift in how we think about data. We don’t like these ads that follow us around, or trackers, because they feel like an assault on our privacy. Yet it is the information gained through this that allows businesses to begin to better target our wants and interests.

I say begin, as the data available to date is so thin and incomplete that it is estimated to be up to 30-50 per cent wrong, to the obvious detriment of both the business and user.

Imagine how much more beneficial for both sides a rich data set would be – useful data 100 per cent certified and licensed at source, used to target appealing ads back to that same user.

A vision for the future to be sure, but a vision that comes ever closer as the Internet of Me follows close on the heels of the Internet of Things, with companies like at the forefront of this digital revolution.

internet of things

What is the Internet of Things?

As the latest estimates claim the number of devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) will jump from 15 billion now to 50 billion in 2020, we look at what a connected world actually means.

What is the IoT? Well, at its most basic level, it is a network of devices fitted with data-capturing sensors that can connect to the internet, talking wirelessly to each other, applications – and indeed us. And these devices? They’re things in your home, things you wear, wearables such as Fitbit and the car you drive.

The phrase IoT has been in circulation for nearly a decade in technology circles, but only now with smart, connected devices such as thermostats and refrigerators, as well as driverless cars, becoming a reality is it something that is becoming relevant to the majority of the population.

What would a truly connected world look like? More straightforward is one answer, as all these intelligent little machines that between them know so much about us and our lives start to co-ordinate.

In classic examples, your alarm clock wakes you up and then tells your coffee machine to start boiling ready for a morning cuppa, while on the drive to work your car knows the quickest route for where and when you need to be, and can even text whoever you’re meeting if you’re running late.

Lots of smart devices, collecting and streaming huge amounts of user data and providing real-time information on, well, just about anything. Performing nominated tasks on demand and combining to make life as frictionless as possible. After all, how much easier would life be if your house’s heating could tell it was about to break and was able to summon an engineer itself before it actually did so?

And these devices could bring real benefits, not least cost as well as convenience, to all our lives. The heating that knows to turn itself off or down on a sunny day will save individual users money, as potentially could smart cars that send data about how they are being driven to insurance companies to feed into premiums.

The decreasing cost of computer power means there is no cost barrier to entry for putting sensors that can generate data in the most mundane items, and there is clearly no shortage of opportunities for smart machines that can do something in addition to their primary, practical purpose.

With so much data zipping around, questions about privacy and security are at the forefront of concerns and there are clearly many debates to be had around the IoT, its limitations and indeed its strengths.

But one thing is not in doubt – a huge amount of data is going to be generated, and how that is analysed and interpreted is going to be key to how successful the IoT is, for individuals and businesses alike.

Of course, at, we believe in returning the power of data to the owner, for them to use and permission as they wish, in both their personal and public lives.

The Internet of Things, and its natural successor the Internet of Me, where the individual is at the centre of their connected life, is a natural fit for us, as control returns to the user. Businesses need accurate rich data, which an individual is best placed to provide – but only if they want to and only if it is worth their while.

Leveraging the IoT is the dream for many companies, but here at we’re already got a headstart – and you can  try it out for yourself with a free download of our amazing app.

trust (2)

Could the great personal data sell-off affect you?

The biggest danger to your personal data could be hiding in plain sight – and the law is not on your side.

We’re constantly warned to take care with our data. Be careful who we give it to, know what they want it for. Control it, be cautious with it, take care that those who guard it are taking appropriate security measures.

Yet a simple loophole that could see your data being sold on, even if you had instructed the company not to do this when handing it over, has come to light. And it’s perfectly legal, and happening frequently.

When a company who has your data goes into administration and appoints liquidators, they are charged with making as much money as possible from any remaining assets to reduce the debt to creditors. And guess what has a lot of commercial value? Yes, correct – your data.

This data, this personal information about you shared in good faith with one company, is now an asset for sale, available to the highest bidder who can in turn do what they want with it.

While the Information Commissioner’s Office states that anyone handing over their data has a “reasonable expectation” of how that data will be used,  selling it on, often to a company in the same industry, does not seem to breach this – in practice if not in spirit.

This astounding state of affairs was highlighted this week by a consumer programme on BBC Radio Four, where a woman from London was, in her words, “innundated” with emails and calls from other providers after the ferry company she had used went bust.

Adamant that she had “ticked boxes” stating her details should not be passed to third parties, she was powerless when liquidators Ernst and Young were appointed and the customer list was, quite legally, sold on. As she started being “bombarded” by unsolicited contact, she asked one where they had got her details from, and was told it was from the receivers. The same receivers who never contacted her to ask permission to sell on her data.

She told the programme: “The government are always saying you need to look after your data and you shouldn’t share it with people you don’t know, and then then they take it upon themselves to nominate someone who can sell it on and I think it makes a mockery of keeping your business private.”

An insolvency expert told the programme that, while not familar with that exact case, the underlying action was widely recognised as acceptable. Companies, those holding data and those acting as receivers or liqiuidators, are required to follow data protection laws, but crucially that doesn’t restrict data from being sold on as a commodity. Which is a pretty shocking state of affairs.

Stories like this highlight how powerless consumers are in many ways once they hand over their data, losing control of where it goes and what it does without ever having done anything wrong.

While never sharing any data is unrealistic if you want goods and services in this modern age, sharing the bare minimum is obviously good practice.

Companies such as are working on solutions to these trust issues, building a data-driven future where you are at the centre of your connected life, crucially in complete control of who has access to your data and what you get in return, but the full realisation of this is some way off.

But you can start claiming back some control by downloading a free version of our app now, collecting information about you distributed across various social media sites and reclaiming it for your own use and purpose.


Online privacy – is there a simple route to the ‘Internet of Me’?

Privacy concerns continue to grow over personal data use and leaks, and this week those concerns were highlighted in the New Scientist in their editorial (29th August –  From reflecting the opinion of many that “Privacy is dead”: to asking how we got here, “Data has become currency”; to thinking about solutions, “Such systems are complex”; to worrying that if the effort to restore privacy doesn’t start soon then “vested interests may become too deeply entrenched to overturn”.

If we think the solution is complex as suggested by the New Scientist, then it is less likely we’ll find the right answer; however, I would like to suggest that there is in fact a very simple solution.

To see what that simple solution is we need to think why our data is so valuable and therefore why businesses are trying to track us. The answer is because the businesses believe they can provide better services , better convenience or sell more to us if they know who we are in many different dimensions.  If this were not true then there would be no value in our data and no value in tracking us.

But how good is the data they get? – not very is the actual answer. This is why of course ever more complex and invasive methods of tracking and associating data are being deployed – at great cost.  Even then the best anyone gets is a thin slice of you which can be 30-50% wrong.

Even this poor performance is threatened by the new ad blocking, do not track and other privacy ‘solutions’ now being deployed.  No one is winning here: not the individual nor the businesses.

Is there a better way? – to use the marketers phrase a “win-win” for both consumers and businesses? The answer is yes there is and what is more it is straightforward.

If I own, hold and control all my own data then businesses can come direct to me and ask for that data.  They get access to Rich data: data which covers a much wider set than they can get by tracking; which is deeper in time; which is 100% accurate, with no association errors (it is about me because it comes from me); which is fully permissioned; which is simple to get – just one person to come and ask.  If a business can get Rich data easily and very cheaply then why would they pay more for worse data obtained through tracking? Not only would they pay more for less they would also not get our trust.

By coming direct to us they get Rich data, cheaper, easier and with our trust.  When more and more businesses start to do this the market for tracked data will diminish and then disappear – a better solution for everyone.

How do we get there? We need software in place which gathers and holds our data for us on our own devices and cloud infrastructure, and which enable businesses to come to us for data which we can authorise (or not).  Luckily this process has started already, for example our company – see, and there will be others joining the party too.

Privacy is not an insoluble problem, nor a difficult win. You just have to look at the motives of everyone involved and fashion a simple win-win solution.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the famous 19th century American physician and writer said: “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity but I’d give my life for simplicity on the far side of complexity”.

With regards to privacy that simple solution the other side of complexity exists – it is that we own and control our own data on our own devices.  An “Internet of Me”, where I am truly the centre of my data world.

Capture Your Personal Data with for Free

Toshiba partners in new distribution deal

Toshiba has joined forces with to distribute our unique market-leading personal data software across Europe, North and Latin America.

This global distribution deal, which will see the electronics giant partnering and promoting through their marketing and social media channels, as well as pre-installing it in a number of laptops and tablets in the Latin America marketplace, comes as our app’s downloads and reputation continue to grow exponentially in an increasingly personal information aware and privacy-savvy marketplace.

It is a significant partner-signing that follows a particularly strong start to 2015 so far for (formerly SocialSafe), which has included graduating from the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program in Paris and being chosen to showcase at Digital Catapult in London. founder Julian Ranger said: “Being selected by such a well-known brand as Toshiba shows that the vision of a world where we own and control our own personal information is coming ever closer.”

With further exciting developments coming, as well as a new iOS app being released imminently, this partnership with Toshiba sees taking yet another step forward on the global stage as we push to revolutionise the world of personal information.

Already familiar to French users where it is distributed as part of the Fnac security pack, this new deal with Toshiba will make and its role as your digital librarian, organising and securing your information for whatever need you wish, highly visible and desirable to a global marketplace.

If you want to join the online personal information revolution and haven’t already tried, you can download a free version here that allows you to back up, view and search content from four of your social network accounts. It also gives you 30 days’ free trial to the premium version which includes features such as personal collections, PDF export and stats.

data privacy

Ashley Madison and Spotify: lessons about personal data privacy

It’s been an interesting week for observers and chroniclers of data issues, especially around privacy and what we can reasonably expect to happen to information we trust to the web and individual websites.

First there was the Ashley Madison leak, following an earlier hack, where millions of email addresses and account details of users, including sexual preferences and credit card information, were dumped online and made visible to anyone who had the time and inclination to go through them (and plenty did).

The extramarital affairs website offered a full delete service, where users could pay an extra fee to erase any trace of their usage, but this appears to have been all but useless. It was also interesting to see reports of how many company, government and military email addresses had been used, when plenty of services offer free and therefore anonymous accounts, implying a clear trust that because Ashley Madison said they were discreet, then this must be true.

Then, as the ramifications of this hack/leak were still becoming clear, Spotify hit its own technological bump in the road, when it was forced to withdraw a wide-ranging new privacy policy that expanded the data it collected from users and who this was shared with.

As the backlash intensified, with angry  users wondering why a music streaming service needed access to their phone contacts and photos, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek apologised for how it had been implemented, promising an “update” to the new policy and better communication in future (although interestingly not backtracking on the content of the policies themselves).

He also said that Spotify would not access or import people’s photos, contacts, sensor or GPS data without their permission.

So, what do both of these sagas tell us about the state of and awareness of data privacy online? I would argue quite a bit – and much of it positive.

While the fallout of the Ashley Madison data will have wide-ranging implications for anyone unmasked, the huge amount of coverage around the hack, subsquent leak and celebrity or well-known users will also undoubtedly raise the profile of the state of data privacy online. Namely, it has been made crystal clear that users need to take full responsibility for their own data and who they trust that with, as even sites claiming to be uber secure are just not able to ensure that is always true, particularly in the wake of a concerted hacking attack.

While not many sites are likely to suffer the fate of Ashley Madison, which was targeted by hackers The Impact Team who had an issue with the content of the site, every site holding personal data has the potential for a breach, and users often have no more than their word that all standard protocols have been followed before handing over what can be sensitive information. Indeed, companies themselves may believe they are protecting data adequately but just not have the technological know-how for that to be correct.

Equally, the Spotify backlash, while primarily among the internet-savvy Twitter usergroup, also shows a promising swell against overarching privacy policies, proving that users won’t accept absolutely anything in return for free use of a service, and increasingly have enough awareness to check what exactly they are signing up to.

Awareness of what we give away with many online transactions (excluding the likes of, which never sees your data) is the first step in making sure that anyone we hand our data to will treat it with respect, amoving on to holding those who don’t to public rebuke and account.

And thus the vastly greater awareness around data privacy issues following recent events can only be a good thing as more and more of our lives are lived online.