THE BLOG

Privacy or Flow?

12/01/2015 17:16 GMT | Updated 14/03/2015 09:59 GMT

It takes a little while to get back to normal after the Christmas break; for people to get back 'into the flow' of things.

Having started a new job on 5 January, I also had a new laptop and phone to complement the new tablet I'd unwrapped 11 days before. A new device is always a bit disruptive. This is the first touch screen laptop I've had, and it's running a newer version of Windows. But it's silly things - having to turn on auto spellcheck within Outlook, auto-signatures, shortcuts, bookmarks, passwords - that turns the tide against you.

At least, that used to be the case. I bought a Chromebook last year, swayed by its giveaway price, instant boot up and free 100GB of Google Drive storage. It sucked me into the Google/Android ecosystem. Now my documents, photos, videos, passwords and search history are all wrapped up in a single profile.

The second I logged into Google on my new laptop, I was back in the flow. Likewise on my new Android phone, as with tablet on Christmas day. All that finickity boring admin stuff - passwords, synching and everything else that makes 'tech' difficult - was simply done on my behalf by some sort of invisible PA. By next year, biometrics and wearable technology will have sped that 'flow' to a current.

Of course, hugely beneficial services such as these come at a price. All that software code and cloud storage has to be paid for by someone. In my case it was largely paid for by Made.com, John Lewis. They were the majority of the first adverts Google's cookies served up to me. Two companies I generally use, and don't mind having communicate with me.

Given that privacy issues have dominated the media agenda over the last couple of years, I'm swimming against the tide in cheerleading the collection, collation and management of data and the use of 'intrusive' cookies.

Perhaps it's because, having grown up in a small village, I'm perfectly used to being under constant surveillance. My first pint of the local Hooky ale would always be accompanied by the other regulars piecing my day together for me. The landlord noticed I was doing 35, not 30, coming into the village. One of the old boys saw my mum on the bus. A keen dog walker would note the cycle route I'd opted for that morning.

Had Larry Page and Sergey Brin used me and my village as a proof of concept for their data capture tool, I doubt we'd have ever heard of Google. They would have quickly realised that Chas, Trev and Cyril had more data about 'Steve Loynes' to sell to retailers than any search engine could ever hope to offer.

Part of the appeal of moving to London, apart from the streets being paved with gold, was knowing I'd have a little more privacy. In many ways I still do. I have neighbours a few doors down that know nothing about me. But 20 years of technical innovation means that someone I've never met face-to-face knows a huge amount about me and what I'm up to.

In the physical world my move from village to city gave me more privacy. Simultaneously, online, I live in a global village. One I've largely created myself, consisting of people I've chosen to interact with - along with the companies and advertisers that have enabled it. My own village, where everybody knows my name and a lot more besides.

I'm perfectly happy to let Google (and a few select others) collect, collate and monetise my data in return for the outstanding services it delivers me at no financial cost. I don't find the benefits of Facebook sufficient to allow it the same courtesy and thus, thankfully, don't have to suffer the desperate status updates of people I haven't seen in 20 years.

In my time constrained, multi-password online world the benefit of always being in the flow of things is well worth a few adverts from companies I already use. That type of flow means I get more done. Flow is a crucial concept in technology design, especially when it comes to the user experience. Flow is you, at the top of your game; be it deep in fluid thought or a three dart finish as you finish your second pint of Hooky.

Thanks to technology and middle class retailers, I was in the flow by 10am 5 January. Privacy advocates? Luddites...