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  • Lawrence Bailey

Someone is always watching you on the web

With all the signs that this self-imposed siege is coming to an end, at least for now, we’re left to reflect on how much things have changed.

The scale of the personal tragedy and dislocation that COVID has wrought on so many lives is hard to evaluate. Similarly, the extent to which social isolation has bred new social habits is still evolving.

Millions of people have discovered that a goodly part of a productive working day, if not all, can effectively be done at home. As such, it’s now just as commonplace to “Zoom” somebody as to email them.

And why not? After all, as well as the convenience, the encryption software involved also guarantees privacy when you make contact – or does it?

As it happens, one well-known provider has recently agreed to pay $86m (£61.9m) to settle a privacy lawsuit in the US.

The plaintiffs allege the firm shared personal data of millions of users with Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.

The firm denied any wrongdoing, but nonetheless agreed a settlement and claims to have since boosted its security practices.

I had an inkling myself last year that something was up with the platform when I had to decline joining a meeting because the security software on my PC flagged up the presence of tracking system.

So-called tracing software is seldom beneficial to platform users, even when you know about it. The government’s NHS Track and Trace system intended to protect the population transformed into a behemoth with the potential to cripple the economy as forcefully as the virus itself.

As industry experts will relate, nowhere on the web is absolutely safe from monitoring in some guise or other. The telling factor is whether targeting can produce a payoff.

Most of us are not worth the effort of dedicated hackers. We’re far more likely to fall for the fake text telling us to click onto a link to check on the delivery of a package or something. Alternatively, it’s just our buying habits that are stored for future reference.

If you’re worried about privacy then there are various packages available to stifle tracing software; but be warned. Freebie versions offering protection are likely to simply replace third-party trackers with their own.

The sad fact is that while social interaction has changed, human nature hasn’t.


Drugs will be the death of us

You may have read elsewhere that another sad social trend that has reached unacceptable levels is the number of recorded drug-related deaths in England and Wales

Last year saw the highest figure since records began in 1993. Some 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered.

Many of these fatalities predate the COVID lockdown period and can be related to the growing spread of illicit peddling activities in the UK known as “County Lines”.

I’m not going to make the claim that there is a direct relationship between the reduction in police numbers and the rise of organised crime. However, I’m unwilling to accept a suggestion by ministers that there is only vague correlation.

Last month, the UK government was urged to boost spending on recovery services and treatment for drug addicts. Successive cuts have left services "on their knees" according to an independent review.

Police forces are already warning that the war against drugs is unwinnable. Other countries are confronting the issue through a combination of investment and decriminalisation. We should learn from them.



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