#caredata sucks – but is it payback time too?

Wired UK reports thus after this Ben Goldacre tweet:

I can now tell you hospital records data on individuals released by @HSCIC in Sept 2013 was publicly available online. This is staggering.

Whilst I share Wired’s preoccupations, I diverge from their blithe assertion that:

Thankfully, all of these breaches relate only to hospital visits. Most people visit the hospital much less frequently than they go to their GP, meaning that patient records aren’t that comprehensive. […]

As one of those people who at a certain time in his life had to attend hospitals out of debilitating mental ill health, I’m really not so sanguine about the implications: not because I have anything to hide, mind – rather, because I simply don’t like the idea of companies making dosh out of my data and paying out gobs of wealth to their shareholders on the back of my medical records.

Meanwhile, good people like Paul Bernal ask for a halt to the whole #caredata imbroglio.  And it’s true: the whole bloody saga is just getting too sickening to be sustained – or be sustainable – any more.  But I do wonder if it isn’t time for a tiny little thought experiment.  Just take a look at the shape of what’s happening here: it’s becoming rapidly apparent that all our most private data is being released (maybe has already been released) onto what is essentially an evermore wild worldwide web.  Someone (like ourselves perhaps) might come to the conclusion that after Edward Snowden’s astonishing revelations on our security agencies, governments across the globe – in particular the Anglo-Saxon ones – have little reason to want to keep sensitive data on their populaces under control, and every interest in making it accessible in a staged kind of way to those who might act in most bad faith, once such access had been engineered.

Yes.  #Caredata sucks – but it’s simply payback time for two quite distinct sets of parties: both the extraordinary journalists who’ve brought us Snowden, as well as those ordinary people who’ve cared to read them.  So maybe the battle between the Ukraine and Russia will be the real dilemma of the 21st century, and maybe it’ll shortly take over our every breathing moment.  But the war that is being fought rather more silently – the war that will continue to be fought – is that which punishes democracies, and their citizens too, for believing they have a right to act democratically.

#Caredata isn’t bollocks squared.  #Caredata is simply a tool by the inconveniently unhappy to get their vengeful own back on a nascent society of highly self-educating people.


Or not, as the case may be.

(Do remember, after all, this was only a tiny little thought experiment – of quite minimal and essentially insignificant consequence.)

on yahoo webcams, care.data, a modern prometheus and downfalls

This isn’t funny at all:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Coupled with the idea that it doesn’t matter because (mostly) robots analyse the data – and keep in mind that Google seriously suggests robots will overtake human intelligence in the next couple of decades – this is really rather an outrageous state of affairs.

Not that I’m particularly sympathetic to Yahoo’s protestations of innocence here.  They, along with the Googles of this world, invented (certainly popularised massively) the tracking of each and every user, the collection of their online behaviours and the bubble-filtering of what we see, in order that advertisers would pay more for the honour of occupying screen real-estate.  What we have here, therefore, is a Modern Prometheus – they are the Frankensteins who unleashed this technology on the world, and now, like all good (bad) monsters of such an ilk, their creations – in the guise of the American NSA, and, perhaps even more fearfully and lately we discover, the British GCHQ – simply come back to bite them where they least expect it.

Or so they would have us believe when they see their bottom lines threatened.

The most amazing thing about all of this is that we have paid for the entire 1984.2 infrastructure: but not even as taxpayers; no, as willing consumers, prepared to contract and consume these surveillance infrastructures in the shape of all these deliciously expensive smartphones and gadgets various, so governments, corporates and other interested institutions can gleefully piggyback on the shoulders of our now miserable lack of privacy.

But #caredata (or care.data, depending on the CMS/social network you’re using maybe!) also raises its ugly head, though in the form of a YouTube video which Paul Bernal has sent our way.  This is funny, even as its implications really aren’t.  Embedded and linked to below.


Nope.  I really have no sympathy for the big transnationals whose business models are being ruined by these revelations.  They were the first to play silly buggers with our privacies, and whilst it seemed a question of money, we seemed (for some reason) to understand and tolerate it.  But now it’s a question of matters of state, now the state gets randomly stuck into our most private of exchanges, now we see all our confidences were perhaps misplaced in the big companies, now they’re telling us that “it doesn’t matter because only robots [who, remember, will be smarter than us in fifteen years] will see most of what the state harvests on us” (so didn’t our glorious Gmail start off that happy habit?), the downfalls tumbling around us are becoming hugely apparent.

Yahoo webcams and their random intervention, #caredata and its generic misuse of potentially profitable, hugely cheap datasets, and the latterday story of a 21st century Internet which now turns out to be Mary Shelley (II) … for an explanation, we need look no further than the message of the YouTube video above: money, money, money, money – in all its shapes and forms.

As I said a long time ago, this is the progressive monetisation of life.  And no one in their right mind seems to know how to slow its encroachment – never mind reverse the trend.

The downfall of humanity more generally?  Maybe not yet.  But on the horizon, surely.  On that terrible horizon.


Those of you who’ve been following the sorry #caredata saga will now know that for around 2000 quid in processing charges, a body of our health service would appear to have handed over hospital data on all NHS patients to the insurance industry in 2012.  The BBC provides the least alarmist overview of the situation as it stands today here.  Meanwhile, a useful Storify provides something I judge to be much closer to the truth here.  And so I am minded to think further afield – to think that, really, this is much more than a cock-up of monumental proportions.  Really, this is the result of a society, of a way of acting, seeing and believing, which has long ago gone well past its sell-by date.

I remember when I was a kid we spoke reverentially of “they”.  My father, a science teacher with a profound belief in and trust of the profession, would use the pronoun regularly.  “Is nuclear power dangerous?” I might ask.  “They say it isn’t; they work hard to do everything right; they use science and technology to build the best power plants in the world.”  “What about atom bombs?” I would question (you can tell the mushroom cloud hung heavily over my generation of helpless CND-like sympathisers).  “They used them in the Second World War because they had to.  Now they have them because the Russians have them.  I’m sure – one day – they will get rid of them eventually.”

“They” were all-knowing, all-powerful too – but also mostly benevolent.  “They” had our very best interests at heart, of that there was no doubt – and even when “they” made mistakes, they were mistakes made out of the very best of intentions.  Corruption and underbelly were not part of the gameplan – and even when they raised their ugly heads, it was not because “they” were corrupt or underbellied; no, it was rather because the battle “they” fought was painful and violent in the extreme.

“They” were never the cause of our problems.  The most “they” ever were was a group of unwilling participants in a sequence of replays of evil times gone by when good people were forced to fight fire with even more fire.

“They” were not quite us.  But, even so, “they” were on our side.

Well, #caredata, the bollocks it’s become, the Facebook-ing of the confidential GP-patient relationship (I almost wrote, quite unintentionally, the “confidential GP-patent relationship”) … all this and much more all has a clear reason for being: we trusted “they” with our lives, our democracy, our vulnerable children, our governance, our politicking, our health, our education, our welfare state and our justice system.  And “they”, who once were able to blame their own occasional forays into corruption and being underbellied on the degradingly fierce and fearsome battles against evil red empires and foul fascist regimes, can now only flail around in the self-evident reality that has led us to this Britain we see before us: a society where “they” have failed us so badly that even “they” can no longer hide it.

And how do I know this?  Well, simple really.  I use the litmus test I’ve used all my life: what would my science-teacher father say of this matter?  What answer would he give?  Not a difficult test either, in the circumstances.  All I had to do the other day was ask him precisely this: “What do you think?  Are you going to opt out of #caredata?”  “Well, after all this, I think I’ve changed my mind.  I’m going to the surgery to pick up a prescription.  I’ll hand in the form at the same time.”

To then conclude briefly, sadly and resignedly thus: “I don’t know what ‘they’ are playing at.”