A story here about the Home Office’s plan to monitor web-browsing habits to build up a database of our very private details. Civil liberties, blah blah, more data to be lost on trains, blah blah, etc etc.
Beyond the whole worrying idea that this level of surveillance is building up detailed private information about all of us, there is an issue here which nobody seems to have mentioned yet – viz. the plain and utter wrongness of the idea that a person’s web browsing habits can build up a clear picture of who they are (or to quote Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, “who I’m associated with, perhaps what my politics is, what my religious preference is and shopping habits are”).
Okay, in many cases that’ll work, because many web users are simple people with simple needs and their browsing habits will be restricted to social networking, news stories, fundamentalist religious websites and ebay. But let’s look at those of us who aren’t so simple.
Case study #1: let’s imagine the Home Office pieced together the character of John Finnemore from his reading habits at the British Library; a cursory sweep through his blog suggests they’d be left with the baffling image of a man whose professional song lyric writing, primarily in the style of by P. G. Wodehouse though possibly influenced by Idi Amin and P. L. Travers, is shared with his enthusiasm for barbed wire (specialising in the area of early US barbed wire patents) and cowology.
Case study #2: as previously discussed, one of the searches that brings readers to this particular blog is the desire to see Harry Potter porn. This was due initially to an unwise post by Mr Aylett, but latterly is something I have become oddly proud of and try to perpetuate with semi-regular mentions of Harry Potter porn. However, I feel it gives a not entirely accurate indication of the content of this blog. Or, to turn that on its head to create a picture of our readers, whilst it might be assumed that they are all literate, intelligent, politically aware writers and Doctor Who fans, a lot of them are in fact just Harry Potter perverts.
Clearly if the Home Office were to start creating databases of the above examples it would be John Finnemore who’d be locked up and our readers who would get off scot free, which is entirely the wrong way round.