For their first “Tech Tuesday” slot of the new year, the “High Noon with George Hook” show on Newstalk 106FM radio invited Threatscape CEO Dermot Williams into their studio to discuss digital security and privacy issues that had made headlines during the holiday period.
The first of these was the way in which some high street retailers track customer’s mobile devices to monitor movements and shopping habits in their stores. Dermot explained that the approach taken can range from the fairly innocuous (where retailers simply generate “heat maps” to understand the footfall and customer movement in aggregate) to the far more invasive (with mobile devices being associated with individual customers and behaviour over multiple visits being monitored). Reference was also made to how “Big Data” use by retailers was over 20 years old with the original Tesco Club Card customer loyalty scheme having been launched in 1994. The gap between what businesses can do with technology and what the law permits them to do was discussed, with reference to the UK where the ICO is consulting with retailers to develop industry guidelines. Their current level of secrecy contrasts with the Nov-Dec 2016 pilot project on the London Underground during which clear signage was posted in the stations involved, disclosing that mobile devices were being tracked but only in aggregate and purely for the purposes of measuring passenger flow. Issues surrounding just what data is being gathered, how long it is being stored, and how it is being used were discussed as well as the question of whether retailers had an obligation to disclose what they were doing – and to allow customers to opt out. Advice was provided that those concerned could greatly limit the ways in which they could be tracked by disabling both Bluetooth and WiFi on their mobile devices.
The second holiday news story concerned a mother of two young children who had bought them a set of children’s radio “walkie talkies” for Christmas. To her horror, she discovered that a stranger could not only listen in to their conversations but that he had started to ask them personal questions including where they lived. Dermot explained that old analogue radio systems like this have basically no security – similar to old CB radio systems. He suggested that people have become complacent regarding the security of mobile communications because the most familiar devices – modern smartphones – are very sophisticated and relatively secure. People should realise that low-cost walkie talkies are from an older generation of technology and are entirely insecure; parents should be “paranoid by default” when providing any type of communication device to young children.
To listen to the full interview, please click here.