Once upon a time, London was the world’s most-surveilled city. This position has since been usurped by Chongqing, a city in the Sichuan province which boasts one hundred sixty-eight cameras per one thousand people. Perhaps upset over the loss of their title, Boris Johnson has decided it’s high time that the UK began compiling records of its citizens’ web traffic.
tl;dr: Here’s an executive summary based on my reading of the linked article.
- Currently, the various parts of the government collect analytics on how people use their websites.
- BoJo would like to combine all of this data, creating profiles of how each individual uses the whole government’s online offerings.
- This is to be done ASAP and in secret. The rationale for this is mumble mumble Brexit.
- This data will be “anonymized”, which is not particularly meaningful at this level of specificity. While an analyst armed with this database would not be able to find a person’s usage by searching for their name, the same analyst could easily derive a person’s name from their usage.
Drilling into some detail now:
Boris Johnson has secretly ordered the Cabinet Office to turn the government’s public internet service into a platform for “targeted and personalised information” to be gathered in the run-up to Brexit, BuzzFeed News has learned.
In a move that has alarmed Whitehall officials, the prime minister has instructed departments to share data they collect about usage of the GOV.UK portal so that it can feed into preparations for leaving the European Union at the end of next month.
[…] At present, usage of GOV.UK is tracked by individual departments, not collected centrally. According to the documents seen by BuzzFeed News, the Cabinet Office’s digital unit, the government digital service (GDS), will add an additional layer of tracking that “will enable GDS to have data for the entire journey of a user as they land on GOV.UK from a Google advert or an email link, read content on GOV.UK, click on a link taking them from GOV.UK to a service and then onwards through the service journey to completion”.
In the personal minute, Johnson told members of the XO committee that GDS had been asked to turn the GOV.UK portal into a “platform to allow targeted and personalised information to be gathered, analysed and fed back actively to support key decision making” in the run-up to Brexit.
This is exactly what Facebook, Google, et al. tell us about the value of targeted advertising; oh how we’ll appreciate their knowing everywhere we go and every website we look at. Just think of all the highly personalized ads we can experience! But the UK government is not, of course, a corporation. We’ve seen what the Cambridge Analyticas of the world can do with access to fairly basic demographic information. Imagine what could be done with the sort of information the government is likely to have–especially a government that’s already up to their eyeballs in collusion with, er, Cambridge Analytica.
No bother, though; I’m sure this has nothing to do with the election BoJo hopes to hold in the near future.
Full disclosure: I have worked in advertising technology on and off for several years, and currently hold a position at a data-management platform in the industry.