Monday, 27 July 2009

David Davis On Google

From The Times

When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank. The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.

There are powerful arguments for people owning their own information and having rights to control it. There are massive weaknesses in the NHS’s bloated central database and there are benefits from using the private sector. But there are also enormous risks, so we are still a long step from being able to give personal data to any company, let alone Google.

That's right. The "powerful argument" for owning my own data is that I can choose a competent company, like Google or Microsoft to look after it, not some Fred Karno's Army of subcontractors who will leave it on a USB stick.

Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International

Those are the guys who objected to StreetView as an invasion of privacy, aren't they? So, definitely not nutters, then?

This highlights how careful we must be in using private companies to handle personal data. Actual and potential misuse of such data will be a recurrent public concern of the next several decades. This is because of the huge commercial value of a near-monopoly internet presence, combined with legally unfettered use of personal data. This is what gives Google a market capitalisation of $130 billion (£79 billion). It represents the value of exploiting its customers’ private data for commercial ends.

Yup. So maybe Google takes some things, works out general patterns of people's behaviour and people like drug companies are interested in that. They won't provide actual records to people though.

It was the prospect of huge profits that pushed Google into its amoral deal with China and drove its high- handed approach to the intrusion on people’s privacy with Streetview. These profits also explain its cavalier approach to European legislation (which it claims does not apply to it). This means we have to be rigorous about how we allow any private- sector operator to manage state-originated personal data.

Just like any photographer taking photos in the street, StreetView was not an invasion of privacy. And everyone whores themselves for China. Microsoft and Yahoo do exactly the same sort of censoring to operate in China.

A Conservative spokesman was quoted last week as saying: “We fully expect that there will be multiple providers that will almost certainly be free to users.” If so, the question arises of how the providers will pay for it. It should not be possible to make money out of holding health data. Health information has to be secure, and should not be available to be used for commercial purposes. That means it should not be sold on, it should not be data mined for commercial insights, and it should not be used for targeted advertising.

Excuse me, but the development of the NHS IT system is using outsourced companies. That means they're making money out of holding health data right now. Google's model seems to be a bit more efficient and open to competition.

Furthermore, any companies allowed to hold this data must be required to do so on computers within the UK, with no possibility of transfer. This is the only way we can enforce UK privacy standards and laws. Paradoxically, such a contract might be of no interest to Google, because it denies the opportunity to profit from data exploitation. If a new government is not careful about these so-called “post-bureaucratic” policies, data-loss and data-misuse scandals will kill public confidence in it. This would be a tragedy.

In case you hadn't noticed, Davis. Google don't have a data loss problem. It's the UK government with it's departments littered with unencrypted USB sticks that does.

So private companies are better than the state, but they are not saints. Accordingly, before any government privatises personal data management, we should be clear about the rules and the structure. The protection of the individual’s right to control his or her own data must be plain and strong. An individual is unlikely to mount, let alone win, a legal challenge against a large corporation unless that is so.

The point about the idea that the Conservative chap came up with is that there would be competing systems. And the Americans are already ahead of us on this with the CCD and CCR protocol. It's supported by Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault and some other systems. So, if you don't want to be with Google, you don't have to be. Heck, you could create your own server that presented your own health record and no-one would ever see it but you.

That is so even for their personal “commercial” data, such as shopping patterns. When it comes to more private information such as health records or tax-and-benefit history, we should go one step further and learn from the financial crash of the past two years. The financial “masters of the universe” were allowed to be too big to challenge, and too big to fail. Only three years ago, they were “cool”. Now they cripple our economy with their incompetence.

Oh, FFS. That was down to pisspoor regulation and property boom, not size.

It is a similar situation with the companies we eventually entrust with our personal data. They have to be subject to personal, judicial, and national influence. They should not be beyond control. So when we are handing out these state contracts, being a multinational mega- corporation is for once a competitive disadvantage. Google need not apply.

Missing the point entirely. This isn't about "state contracts". It's about individuals choosing where their data goes. And frankly, I'd happily put my data with Google than most of the cunts that get government contracts

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