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I spy with my beady eye ...

20 Oct 2017

NBlog October 20 - privacy & personal choice

Control is at the core of privacy - not just information security controls but a person's control over personal information about themselves, and their self-control. 

It's fundamentally a matter of choice, whether or not to disclose our personal information, when, to whom, and how it is to be used and secured ... which presents a conundrum for those of us who choose to use social media, cellphones, email, the web and so on - the chattering classes.

Every time I update this very blog (and sometimes even when I don't!), I'm revealing a bit more about myself. As with my body language, the way I express things may be as telling as the literal content. 

In the midst of writing the security awareness materials on privacy, I'm especially conscious of that aspect right now so I'm being extra careful about what I say here and (to some extent) how I say it ... but I'm only human. There are limits to my ability to control myself. 

Those of you who have been tracking and reading this blog for a while now could probably identify my style of writing, pointing out characteristics that have caught your eye, both good points and bad. I'm talking (well writing!) about metadata gleaned from this blog and perhaps other sources that tells you it's probably me at the keyboard - things such as:
  • My choice of language, vocabulary and grammar, doubtless including spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies and quirks some of which I am probably not aware of, and others perhaps deliberate;
  • My phrasing, sentence and paragraph structure, sentence length, word length; 
  • My use of punctuation, parenthesis, ellipses, bullet points, CaPiTaLs, abbreviations etc. (and, yes, italicising non-English words and abbreviations is a habit I picked up decades ago in the science labs);
  • The way I quote, cite and reference sources, paying respect to those whose efforts I draw upon (the scientific approach, again);
  • Idioms and turns-of-phrase, ways of expressing things that hint at my cultural background and grammar school upbringing (there I go once more, another snippet of personal information disclosed gratuitously); 
  • The way I generally break most things down into paragraphs of about 50-100 words or bullet points of about 20 words, and how I string them together to tell the story (at least, that's my intent!);
  • When I update the blog;
  • The graphics I include, especially the ones I develop or commission rather than just selecting others' work - another rich vein of information there about me, my preferences, visual acuity, color bias and more;
  • My "humour" (well it amuses me, anyway), cynicism and values;
  • How much I write, the depth and breadth as well as the content and nature of my writing;
  • The page layout, plus the titles, side-bar, labels, font, font size, line and paragraph spacing, justification;
  • The URL for the blog, and the web service provider behind it ... 
... These are all metadata, cues that tell you "Yes, it's Hinson again, blabbering on as usual". I like to think it would take an extraordinarily perceptive and capable mimic to pass themselves off as me consistently without being spotted as such, but I'm not entirely sure. Furthermore, my writing style is slowly evolving and occasionally changes more dramatically, often for effect. Sometimes I even surprise myself!

As I said, I'm aware of this. I know what I'm doing. I choose to write and publish this item, and the blog as a whole, and as such I have no problem with you or anyone else gleaning whatever you like from it - or do I? Actually, there are aspects that I might find concerning, for instance I occasionally mention being out of the office at conferences, courses or meetings: I hope there are no burglars reading this blog closely enough to spot the business opportunities! 

As with body language, I am not totally in control of the metadata. Some of it is subconscious, some I can modify or manipulate more or less at will (such as using "US English" most of the time except when I revert to my version of the Queen's English). 

Along with all the above, the simple fact that I'm blogging tells you quite a lot about me, the person before the keyboard, and yet privacy laws have virtually no relevance here because it is my choice to open up. All authors give a little of themselves with every utterance. As to what else I choose to keep to myself, well you'd have to guess or figure it out. I rather doubt you care in the least about me, personally, but that may not hold for, say, Donald Trump: his daily outpourings must be something of a nightmare for an institution used to formalities, authorisations, publicists and so forth. Likewise for a large tranche of the population these days that has grown up in an era of email, Twitter and Facebook. Privacy is rather different now to past eras and no doubt will continue evolving over the years and decades to come.

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